While some Arkansas utility companies have made strides in recent years to curb emissions from coal-fired power plant operations, a new federal proposal means the energy industry will need to do more to further reduce carbon dioxide output in the state.
The plan introduced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants suggests a cut of nearly 45 percent by 2030 for Arkansas — a coal-rich state that derived nearly 44 percent of its energy from that fossil fuel in 2012, according to EPA figures. Natural gas placed second at 26 percent; nuclear power accounted for nearly 24 percent.
State environmental groups hailed the plan. But Arkansas lawmakers from both parties were quick to criticize it, and companies said it could lead to higher prices for ratepayers.
Duane Highley, president and CEO of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, said the reduction in the use of coal to generate electricity could also reduce the reliability of electric service.
"This past winter's experience highlighted many reasons why power generation should not put all of our reliability eggs in the natural gas basket," he said. "There were gas plant failures, pipeline freezes and wholesale natural gas supply disruptions. Our nation needs and deserves a diverse energy supply portfolio. ... By reducing the amount of coal in our generation mix, prices will go up and reliability could go down."
Leaders from the state's Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Public Service Commission are expected to meet with Gov. Mike Beebe later this week to discuss the proposal, the governor's spokesman said Monday. The attorney general is also studying the targets.
Some members of the state's congressional delegation came out swinging against the targets, saying they would be a job-killer for Arkansas and cost billions of dollars.
"The president's 'war on coal' hurts Arkansans, as we rely on coal for nearly half of our electric power," said Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor expressed concerns the proposal would undermine affordable and reliable electricity in the state. And Republican Rep. Tom Cotton announced Monday he'll co-sponsor bipartisan legislation to block the power plant proposal. Cotton and Pryor are competing for a Senate seat; Griffin is seeking to become lieutenant governor.
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