Friday, March 28, 2008

DEQ steers clear of Coal Debate

State Agency Steers Clear Of Coal DebateBy John LyonArkansas News Bureau •
LITTLE ROCK — The debate over the pros and cons of coal power will have no bearing on the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s decision on whether to permit a coal-fired power plant in southwest Arkansas, an ADEQ official said Monday.The agency’s decision on whether to grant air, water and solid waste permits to Southwestern Electric Power Co. for a proposed 600-megawatt plant in Hempstead County will not take into account the question of whether coal power is good or bad for Arkansas in the long run, said Mike Bates, chief of ADEQ’s Air Division.Bates made the remarks while taking part in a public forum on coal power at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The university’s Biology Club sponsored the forum.“Our job simply boils down to, does it pass the regulatory, statutory requirements?” Bates said. “We can’t factor into our determination whether it (coal power) is the best thing or not so good. We have a body of regulation requirements we have to follow, and unfortunately — in some people’s eyes, anyway — deciding whether it is best or not, it simply is not part of our jurisdiction.”If ADEQ were to base its decision on matters outside its scope, that decision likely would be overturned on appeal, Bates said in an interview after the forum.The Arkansas Public Service Commission voted 2-1 in November to give its approval to the proposed plant, but SWEPCO still needs ADEQ approval. Local landowners are appealing the PSC’s ruling.Earlier this month the Arkansas Coalition for Clean Energy, a group that includes the Sierra Club, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and several other organizations, called on Gov. Mike Beebe to issue a moratorium on new coal-fired plants. The coalition said building new coal plants would contribute to global warming and negate the efforts of the newly created Governor’s Commission on Global Warming.Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday the governor has no plans for a moratorium, but the ADEQ’s permitting process for the plant is “one that we’re going to keep an eye on.”The fact that the PSC has approved the SWEPCO plant does not necessarily mean ADEQ will do the same, Bates said.“The PSC ... does touch on some of the environmental aspects, but not to the degree that our agency has to,” he said.L. Van Warren of Little Rock, a specialist in renewable energy who represented the Sierra Club at the forum, expressed skepticism about the permitting process.“Like a magician, the trick ... is already in by the time you find out what the trick is. The misdirection is already in,” he said.Bates took exception to Warren’s comments. The permitting process is “an open process all the way through,” requiring public notices and public hearings before any permit is granted, he said.“The intimation that the fix was in on a DEQ permit for this facility, I don’t want to leave the wrong impression that that was actually in place, because it is certainly far from the situation in this case,” he said.Brian Bond, vice president of external affairs for SWEPCO, said during the forum that the plant proposed for Hemsptead County will be “probably one of the cleanest plants that’s ever been constructed in the United States, and it will be probably the first new power plant that’s controlled for mercury emissions.”Bond said coal power is less costly than alternatives such as wind power. Environmental protection has to be balanced with what people are willing and able to pay for that protection, he said.“One of the things we have to keep in mind, and I think everyone here should understand too, is the fact that low-income citizens are disproportionately impacted when you end up building higher-priced generating facilities,” he said.A family earning less than $10,000 a year pays 46 percent of its income on energy, whereas a family earning more than $50,000 pays 7 percent of its income on energy, Bond said.Warren compared America’s reliance on coal power to drug addiction.“We can look at the economics of crack cocaine,” he said. “There’s a short-term, sell the kids for food and then we get some crack cocaine and we do the crack cocaine. But then after that is gone, then we have to go repeat that negative behavior. And I would say as a nation, we’ve become addicted to oil.”

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