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Arkansas files suit after EPA rejects ozone plan

White Bluff Coal Plant
Wil Chandler
Arkansas Business
The White Bluff coal-fired power plant in Redfield, Ark. is seen in this file photo.

The state of Arkansas has filed suit against the Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency after the EPA rejected Arkansas’ submission for complying with a rule pertaining to ozone emissions affecting other states.

The lawsuit was announced Thursday (Feb. 16) by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin.

The EPA’s disapproval was published in the Federal Register on Feb. 13. The agency disapproved State Implementation Plan (SIP) submissions for 19 states for the 2015 rule regarding ozone national ambient air quality standards. State plans for Tennessee and Wyoming were partially disapproved.

The rule’s “good neighbor” or “interstate transport” provision requires the SIPs to adequately prohibit each state’s emissions from significantly harming other states’ ability to attain their own standards.

Arkansas submitted its proposed guidelines in 2019. Griffin said the rule was supposed to be reviewed by November 2020, but the EPA is late and had changed the standards. The EPA had proposed disapproving Arkansas’ and 18 other SIP submissions on Feb. 22, 2022.

According to the Federal Register, Arkansas was linked to nonattainment among several receptors, the highest being in Brazoria County, Texas, which is south of Houston near the Gulf of Mexico. The Federal Register said the EPA found technical and legal flaws in Arkansas’ analysis. Among other criticisms, it said the state did not include any permanent and enforceable controls.

Sanders disagreed, saying, “Our rules would have reduced pollution without reducing jobs – what we saw as a perfect balance. However, the Biden administration has rejected Arkansas’ plan, and they’ve used anecdotal evidence and crude, inaccurate analysis to claim that Arkansas is letting polluters off the hook, when in all reality, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Sanders said the EPA is refusing to let Arkansas revise the plan. Instead, it is mandating that Arkansas and 25 other states follow a federal plan that was proposed Feb. 28, 2022.

“In this particular case, I believe what’s going on is the federal government wants the federal implementation plan for everybody, and that, I believe, is why they didn’t give us an opportunity to change,” Griffin said.

Caleb Osborne, Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality director and chief administrator of environment, said the EPA’s plan will be more prescriptive and more costly to implement but won’t produce the intended consequences.

Sanders said roughly 50 Arkansas businesses are put at risk of the possibility of closure. Those include power plants, natural gas pipelines, cement producers, steel factories and glass, paper and chemical manufacturers.

Among them are the Harry L. Oswald Generating Station at Wrightsville, where Sanders and Griffin made the announcement. The natural-gas plant, in operation since July 1, 2003, is owned by the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and is capable of generating 548 megawatts of power. Shutting it down would threaten central Arkansas’ electric grid, Sanders said.

Osborne said that particular facility was at risk primarily because of nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.

Sanders said at least two other states not in the Eighth Circuit have made filings.

In the lawsuit, the state of Arkansas and the Division of Environmental Quality are the petitioners, while the respondents are the EPA and its administrator, Michael Regan.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.