EPA signs off on Arkansas’ regional haze plan

EPA has given final approval to an Arkansas regional haze reduction plan that rolls back Obama-era requirements for sulfur dioxide scrubbers on two high-polluting power plants.

“States are best suited to run their clean-air programs, and Arkansas’ clean air plan gives our state partner the flexibility needed to improve its air quality,” EPA Region 6 Administrator Ken McQueen said in a statement announcing the decision. “This plan ensures that the skies over Arkansas’ scenic areas will be protected for future generations.”

E and E News reports that the EPA’s approval is incorporated into a final rule published in today’s Federal Register. The state plan replaces a 2016 federal blueprint that would have required Entergy Corp. to install scrubbers on its White Bluff and Independence coal-fired power plants.

In the electricity generating sector, the two facilities ranked among the nation’s 10 highest emitters of sulfur dioxide last year, according to recently released EPA data. While releases from the White Bluff plant dipped 4% last year, they jumped 24% at the Independence facility, the numbers show (Greenwire, Sept. 26). An Entergy spokeswoman attributed the increase to electricity generation.

Under the newly approved state plan, Entergy will instead have to burn low sulfur coal at the two plants; that requirement is also part of a proposed consent decree between the New Orleans-based power producer and two environmental groups that had alleged the company made upgrades to the facilities without getting the needed permits. As part of the proposed deal, which is awaiting a federal judge’s approval some 10 months after it was announced, Entergy has agreed to halt coal-fired generation at White Bluff by the end of 2028 and at Independence by the end of 2030.

EPA’s regional haze program, dating back to 1999 in its current form, is geared to restoring natural visibility to 156 national parks and wilderness areas by 2064.

Entergy had argued that scrubber installation at the two plants would have cost $2.2 billion; backing the company were state-elected officials who said that ratepayers would have borne the expense. EPA began working to undo the Obama-era haze plan soon after President Trump took office in January 2017. Early last year, the agency scrapped another part of the plan that would have required new controls to limit emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) (E&E News PM, Jan. 29, 2018).

In its place, EPA approved a state strategy that relies on participation in the existing Cross-State Air Pollution Rule program to meet haze reduction requirements. Entergy says it has also gone ahead with installation of new curbs. NOx releases at the Independence and White Bluff plants last year fell 12% and 39%, respectively, according to the EPA data.