by Max Brantley
The Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas have asked the Arkansas Public Service Commission to stop construction of American Electric Power's Turk Plant, being built by its SWEPCO subsidiary in Hempstead County.
The coal-burning utility giant has bet all along Arkansas would never dare stop construction if they eventually spent enough money on construction, permitted or not. So far, the courts have had backbone if the PSC and environmental regulators have not.
News release explains (and a response from Arkansas Electric Co-op follows):
Yesterday afternoon, the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas filed a petition with the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) to halt construction of the proposed John W. Turk, Jr. coal plant. The filing is in part based on grounds that the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) has continued to fund Turk’s construction, and the Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) has continued to construct the plant without having a required Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN).
Lev Guter, with the Sierra Club, stated, “Not only do we believe that SWEPCO and AECC’s continued construction of the Turk plant is illegal, but also that halting construction of Turk is one of the best ways we have to protect Arkansans from toxic mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, which threatens the health of babies and young children. Arkansans deserve to live, work and play without having to worry if the fish they are eating is toxic to their health.”
On November 21, 2007, the PSC issued a CECPN to SWEPCO. However, in May 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court revoked SWEPCO’s CECPN. In June 2010, SWEPCO applied for an exemption to continue construction without a CECPN for its portion of the plant. However, AECC never applied for an exemption, so Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas claim the utilities have continued construction unlawfully.
Ellen Fennell, State Director of Audubon Arkansas stated, “SWEPCO and AECC knew the risk they were taking when they proceeded with construction of this behemoth coal-fired plant without obtaining the proper permits. This plant will be harming the environment and people’s health for the next three or more decades. Every “i” should have been dotted, every “t” crossed before SWEPCO and AECC proceeded with this plant. Audubon and Sierra will continue to fight for accountability to the public and to ratepayers at the Arkansas Public Service Commission.”
AECC owns almost 12 percent of the Turk plant with SWEPCO owning 73 percent and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority and East Texas Electric Cooperative, Inc. owning the balance of the shares.
Richard Mays, of Heber Springs, attorney for the Sierra Club and Audubon stated, “The companies constructing the Turk plant are doing so without having complied with the laws of Arkansas. These laws protect Arkansans from threats to their health and their environment. The filing of this case is a means of restoring public oversight of these utilities.”
The filing also addresses a natural gas pipeline proposed for the Turk site which Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Audubon Arkansas also claim requires an environmental impact statement to be conducted under Arkansas law.
ARKANSAS ELECTRIC COOPERATVES' SPOKESMAN DOUG WHITE RESPONDS
The filing by the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas at the Arkansas Public Service Commission is just another in a series of efforts by these groups to stop the construction of the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant, an important generation resource for Arkansas.
Contrary to the allegations made in the filing, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) has met all of the necessary statutory and regulatory requirements for participating in the project.
We support SWEPCO's work toward the timely completion of the plant in order to meet the future energy needs of our members. The plant is providing jobs and much needed economic development in southwest Arkansas. Once operational, the plant will also provide our members across the state with a low-cost base-load generation resource for years to come.