Saturday, July 26, 2008

Audubon Arkansas recounts coal-fired plant's history

Defend the Little River Bottoms

Charles Mills
One of Arkansas’s most Important Bird Areas, the Little River Bottoms in Hempstead County, is under fire from the proposed construction of a coal-burning power plant. An18,000 acre tract of contiguous, relatively undisturbed bottomland hardwood forest, the Little River Bottoms IBA is one of the most biologically diverse ecologically sensitive areas in Arkansas. . Containing dozens of plant and animal species of conservation concern, the Little River Bottoms IBA provides habitat for thousands of wading birds who breed there. It also shelters the state’s largest breeding populations of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Anhingas, White Ibis, Common Moorhens, and Purple Gallinules. Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) wants to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant literally across the street. The plant will produce 6 million tons of carbon dioxide, and also emit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury – all of which threaten the health of both birds and humans.

In October 2007, the Arkansas Public Service Commission , after more than two weeks of hearings and expert testimony on the plant’s construction, voted 2-1 to grant a certificate of need to SWEPCO. The go ahead was given despite deficiencies in the environmental review process and the multi-state movement away from new coal-fired plants.

In early January 2008, an appeal for a rehearing by the Intervenors was denied, again by a vote of 2-1. On January 29, the Intervenors, who include members of nearby hunting clubs, filed before the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Read this article for more details. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality(ADEQ) is still considering whether to grant an air permit to SWEPCO.

On February 8 the DC Court of Appeals ruled that new coal-fired power plants are subject to Maximum Achievable Control Technology ("MACT") regulations for hazardous air pollutant emissions under section 112 of the Clean Air Act. This decision over-turns the Bush Administration's exemption for coal plants. In response, on April 9 SWEPCO submitted an application to ADEQ for a case-by-case analysis of emissions of hazardous air pollutants including, but not limited to, arsenic, benzene, cyanide, dioxins, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, mercury, phosphorous, selenium, and sulfuric acid. Unfortunately, their analysis is deficient in several ways and does not meet the standards of a MACT analysis. In addition, Audubon and Sierra Club believe the MACT analysis requires public notice and a public comment period on the draft permit. Read our letter to Teresa Marks, Director of ADEQ, explaining our concerns.

Audubon Arkansas is working on several fronts to protect the Little River Bottoms and its birds. We are conducting bird surveys to document species of conservation concern. Our bird data were incorporated into expert testimony (11.3 MB PDF) submitted to the PSC. We’ve also submitted comments to ADEQ and Governor Beebe. Working with the Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas is spearheading a grassroots movement against coal-generated electricity and greenhouse gas production in Arkansas.

On February 6, the Arkansas Coalition for Clean Energy (which includes Audubon and Sierra Club), delivered a letter and petition signed by 1,054 people asking Beebe to halt any permits for coal plants while the Global Warming Commission he appointed completes its work. The petition was the first batch and we hope to add many more signatures.

On February 8, Audubon Arkansas and Sierra Club filed two Petitions to Intervene before the Arkansas Public Service Commission. These petitions challenge the environmental compatibility and public need for the construction of two transmission lines needed to distribute power from the proposed coal-fired plant. Read the two petitions online - Petition to Intervene 1 (pdf) and, Petition to Intervene 2 (pdf).

In May, 2008, Audubon Arkansas, Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project filed a Third Party Rulemaking Petition before the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission (APC&E). The APC&E will hear the petition request on Friday, June 27th at 8:30 a.m. The petition requests the Commission to delete carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from a list of exempt elements and compounds not subject to regulation. The reason for this request is that we have learned in the last few years that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas and is primarily responsible for rising global temperatures. The Audubon petition does not propose limits or standards for regulating carbon dioxide. The petition merely says that carbon dioxide should be removed from the list. In a recent US Supreme Court decision, Mass vs. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and should be subject to regulation as other known pollutants. Our filings to the Commission can be found here.


Contribute to Audubon Arkansas’ Little River Bottoms Defense Fund using a credit card, or by mailing a check payable to: Audubon Arkansas, in care of Audubon, 1423B South Main St., Little Rock, AR 72201.
Write a letter to Governor Mike Beebe asking him to make good on his promise to err on the side of the environment. You can e-mail him here or write to Governor's Office, State Capitol Rm 250, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Sign up with AudubonAction and receive e-mailed Action Alerts and Advisories regarding environmental policy issues that directly affect you.
Visit Sierra Club's web site to learn of upcoming events and volunteer activities regarding this issue.
Reduce your personal energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more.

Read Ted Williams’s Incite article in Audubon magazine
See a list of species of conservation concern that live in the Little River Bottoms
Browse expert testimony submitted to the PSC here by entering docket number: 06-154-U
Read Audubon Arkansas’ letter to the PSC
Read Audubon Arkansas’ letter to ADEQ
Read a letter by Ken Smith, State Director, to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Now in its second century, Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation.

Audubon Arkansas was founded as the 25th state office of the National Audubon Society in 2001 through a seed grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. Audubon’s vision is a state where the love and respect for nature is a cultural legacy. Our vision is a state where communities are engaged in responsible stewardship, protecting and conserving our native environment for future generations. This leads naturally to our mission to inspire and lead Arkansans in environmental education, resource management, habitat restoration, bird conservation and enlightened advocacy.

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