Federal Judge Leon Holmes
today ruled for the Sierra Club in its suit to require a haze reduction plan
for Arkansas. He ordered a final notice of rulemaking by Aug. 31.
The Sierra Club sued because the federal EPA had failed its own declaration in 2012 that the state had to submit an acceptable plan or it would produce one of its own. Nucor, the steelmaker in Northeast Arkansas, intervened to slow the action.
The state argued that the Sierra Club didn't have standing and that visibility in the state was improving.
The judge said, however, that deficiencies in the state plan had not been remedied in 3.5 years. "The EPA’s failure during that time to perform its nondiscretionary duty to approve a state implementation plan or adopt a federal implementation plan creates a risk that visibility is less than it would be if a plan had been adopted in Class I areas," the judge said.
He said the EPA must promulgate a federal plan or a partially approved\ revised state plan addressing deficiencies identified in 2012.
The judge dismissed Nucor's request for a stay of action.
The haze rule grew out of the 1999 Clean Air Act. It is meant to improve visibility in places such as the Buffalo National River that have been harmed by emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industries.
The lawsuit had pushed the EPA to issue a new federal clean air plan that utilities complained would be expensive to implement. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has regularly sided with industry against anti-pollution rules. Major polluters in Arkansas are two coal-fired power plants. Entergy Arkansas has proposed converting the White Bluff plant to an alternate energy source, such as gas. The EPA has delayed establishing a firm date for implementation while it negotiated with the state. The state wanted the whole suit dismissed.
The Sierra Club issued a statement through Director Glen Hooks:
"Sierra Club is very pleased with Judge Holmes's ruling in our favor. We now have a deadline for EPA to finalize a plan protecting our national parks and wilderness areas from haze pollution. EPA missed its statutory deadline to act, and EPA now has a court-ordered deadline to act as a result of Sierra Club's lawsuit.
"We believe the best way to do lessen haze pollution is by scheduling the retirement of the giant Entergy coal plants that contribute to haze in Arkansas and Missouri. As the CEO of Entergy Arkansas himself has stated, scrubbing 40 year old coal plants at a cost of hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars would be the worst possible choice for Arkansas families. We encourage EPA to finalize a strong plan that eliminates the haze impact from both the White Bluff plant and Independence plants. Iconic places like the Buffalo River in Arkansas and the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri deserve clean air.
"Judge Holmes also wisely dismissed Attorney General Rutledge's flimsy argument against allowing Sierra Club to sue EPA. We have thousands of Arkansas Sierra Club members negatively affected by haze pollution, and they have the clear legal right to be heard. Arguments to the contrary ignore years of legal precedent, and Judge Holmes firmly ruled against Rutledge on her standing argument.
"Today's decision is a big win for Arkansas in terms of both our public health and our environment. Sierra Club will continue doing everything possible to protect our clean air here in The Natural State."
From EarthJustice Attorney Matthew Gerhart:
“EPA’s proposed standards would dramatically reduce air pollution from the largest sources of air pollution in Arkansas. These protections would prevent tens of thousands of tons of air pollution. EPA should finalize standards as soon as possible.”