Ken Smith, director of Audubon Arkansas, has a response to readers commenting yesterday on the appeal of the air permit for the proposed SWEPCO coal-burning power plant in Hempstead County. He notes, among others, that SWEPCO knew from the day the permit was issued that appeals would be filed, but started construction anyway. And he has some pointed remarks about the plant's cost overruns.
SWEPCO knew weeks before today that Audubon and Sierra Club would file an appeal to the ADEQ air permit. The company went ahead with construction as soon as it received the permit on November 5th. SWEPCO took the chance so now it is in the position of stopping construction. One of your blog readers disregarded the impact that greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, from coal plants has on climate change. Even laying aside all of the science that disputes your reader’s assertion, we know that increases in CO2 have preceded all global warming events in the past. Prior to industrialization, CO2 levels were in the range of 285 parts per million. One hundred plus years later, CO2 is closing rapidly on 400 parts per million.
Concern about CO2 emissions from the John Turk coal plant, though, is not the sole basis for Audubon and Sierra Club’s appeal. The ADEQ Air Permit is deficient in so many respects (including all of the major state and federal required technology assessments, emission analyses, ambient air impacts analyses, and other aspects) that the Permit, in its entirety, should be stayed. The Adjudicatory Hearing that we requested as part of our appeal will address our specific concerns with the ADEQ Air Permit. There is a decent chance our arguments will prevail. It makes sense then that SWEPCO should not have started construction on November 5th and it should not continue construction until all appeals have worked through state and perhaps federal venues.
Also I want to remind all that while the inadequate air permit is the basis of our appeal, the impact of this coal plant in the Little River Bottoms and its chief geographical feature, Grassy Lake, will be profound. The operation of this behemoth 600MW plant, construction of transmission lines, and trains of coal pouring into the plant will severely impact the bald cypress and bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem and its resident populations of thousands of wading birds, waterfowl, and the only population of alligator in Arkansas that has not been reintroduced. An outstanding biological wonder, Little River Bottoms never received the environmental review and attention it so rightly deserved from the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Little River Bottoms was near the bottom of all sites deemed suitable in the four-state region, yet the plant ended up being sited on top of the most pristine natural area in southwest Arkansas.
Accompanying yesterday’s news about the appeal were articles relating that the cost of the John Turk plant was now projected at $1.6 billion, $300 million more than was presented by SWEPCO and approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. SWEPCO cites “rising construction costs.” Texas ratepayers are expecting to see a 15%+ increase in their rates as a result of the $300 million increase. What does this mean for SWEPCO customers in west Arkansas? This plant will likely end up costing much more! Is this what the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the citizens of Arkansas bargained for?
State Director, Audubon