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Supreme Court's EPA ruling will negatively impact Arkansas, activist says

Michael Hibblen
Ducks swim in Lake Catherine with an Entergy Arkansas natural gas plant in the background on March 27, 2022. As part of a settlement announced in 2018, the power company agreed to shut down the Hot Spring County plant by 2027.

An Arkansas environmental leader says a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions will have negative consequences for the state.

The 6-3 decision was handed down on June 30 in the case of West Virginia v. EPA. As NPR News reported, the court said any such regulations must be authorized by Congress. It’s unique as no other such agency limits have been imposed in at least 75 years and could have implications on other government agencies.

Glen Hooks is the former chapter director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, which has been involved in litigation against energy companies in an effort to shut down the dirtiest plants in the state. Today he is policy manager at Audubon Delta, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Hooks believes the ruling is legally wrong and says he’s concerned about the future of the state’s environment. The real effects of the decision, he said, will come down to choices made by local leaders.

“Worst case scenario,” Hooks said, “would be if our leaders determined that they could do nothing as a result of this Supreme Court decision.”

It’s undisputed that carbon emissions cause climate change, he said, which is why the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association filed lawsuits that led to a settlement announced in 2018 for Entergy Arkansas to retire three older power plants and expand clean power generation.

The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would have set limits on carbon in each state. However, legal challenges kept the plan from taking effect. Still the EPA’s goals were met 11 years earlier than expected because coal has become more expensive than other sources of power.

The court's decision was based on the “major questions doctrine,” a legal theory that prevents agencies from making rules deemed “transformational” to the economy. The doctrine leaves room for Congress to pass environmental regulations instead of individual agencies, according to to Chief Justice John Roberts' reasoning.

“The agency must point to “clear congressional authorization” for the authority it claims,” Roberts said.

The chief justice also said the plan would “raise retail electricity prices, require the retirement of dozens of coal plants, and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs.” Later he wrote, the “EPA’s own modeling concluded that the rule would entail billions of dollars in compliance costs.”

The settlement involving Entergy Arkansas' agreement to eventually shut down three plants got final approval from U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on March 11, 2021. In 2018, soon after the settlement was announced, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the Public Service Commission to investigate whether the settlement was in the best interest of the state. The Republican said the settlement had "not been properly vetted by the Public Service Commission, my office or other agencies that have the public's interest at heart" and would result in increased electricity prices.

Hooks argues that steps taken in recent years have moved the state in the right direction and are providing financial benefits. An increasing number of municipalities, companies and residents have set up solar arrays with a net metering system that provides financial benefits to customers.

“Keeping that kind of thing in place is very consumer friendly and it's economically sound,” Hooks said. “It allows school districts and cities in Arkansas to save a lot of money on their power bills while they are also doing the right thing for the environment.”

Hooks’ current employer Audubon Delta strives to protect birds and the places they need. He says that since 1967, about 30% of the North American bird population has gone extinct.

“The birds are telling us there is a real problem,” Hooks said. “Our research shows that if we don't do anything about climate, two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction. What affects the birds affects the rest of us.”

In a statement released after last month's Supreme Court ruling, Rutledge said, "Energy production now has a chance to thrive again because we have stopped Biden’s EPA power grab, and this reinforces Arkansas’s authority to decide what is best for its citizens.”

Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio. She grew up listening to KUAR and NPR News and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie first interned in the fall of 2021 assisting in production for KUAR and KLRE, then in spring of 2022 spent a semester interning as a new anchor before joining the staff.
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