by Max Brantley
By Ernest Dumas
Republicans and business groups in our neighborly states of Oklahoma and Tennessee seem wildly excited about the benefits coming their way from the Clean Line transmission network that will send clean, renewable power from the windy Panhandle to hundreds of thousands of homes in Arkansas and across the Mississippi.
In Arkansas, however, their counterparts—every member of the congressional delegation and Republican state lawmakers—are terribly vexed about the project because they say it is another power grab by President Obama and an environmental threat to landowners on the route.
But it is hard not to see the lamentations as crocodile tears. Remember when all six members of the Washington delegation demanded that the president authorize Canada's giant Keystone XL pipeline, although it posed dangers to people in the Great Plains and offered virtually no benefit to Arkansas? The state already is crisscrossed by pipelines and by transmission lines that distribute power from hydroelectric and gas-, coal- and oil-burning plants.
That, see, is the difference. Clean Line will send wind power from turbines on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles to markets in Arkansas, Tennessee and beyond. The carbon industry, from the Koch brothers to the natural gas industry, are stressed by competition from wind and solar power, now that it is national policy to reduce carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases and mercury poisoning from power plants, for the health benefits and to slow climate change.
No politician can say he's doing the bidding of the oil, gas and coal industries, which supply generation fuel for much of the electricity in Arkansas and the Southeast. Instead, you're trying to halt more piracy of states rights by the dictator Obama's Energy Department and protect landowners on the route.
Before the absurdity of the Keystone pipeline became transparent, virtually every Republican politician in the land was touting it as vital to U.S. economic interests. It was going to create millions of jobs, maybe some at a Little Rock plant that cast pipe for the completed southern segment, and the risk the noxious Canadian crude posed to the water table of a big swath of Nebraska was, well, tolerable.
If it is Arkansas investment and jobs you want, the Clean Line project will yield them, at least according to the Walton business school at the University of Arkansas, which projected that it would create 855 jobs in Arkansas and that the Clean Line people, electric utilities or the regional transmission authority would spend $660 million in Arkansas building the line and a station to convert the wind turbines' DC current to AC and making
conductors and insulators.
But here is the big selling point for the project—unless you believe, like the Koch brothers, the coal industry and Exxon Mobil, that climate change is phony and that greenhouse gases are tolerable threats to public health: Arkansas would get 500 megawatts of wind power, which would go a long way toward putting it into early compliance with national greenhouse gas rules, which require a 44 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, and the regional haze rule, which forces Entergy Arkansas to do something about its dirty Independence Station at Newark. All the prevailing powers in Arkansas—the congressional delegation, the governor, the attorney general, the state Chamber of Commerce—have condemned both rules.
Entergy has already moved to comply with the rules. It will close the White Bluff plant, which emits 10.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year, by buying a unit of the big gas-fired generating station at El Dorado and buying solar power from a Stuttgart plant. If Entergy and its transmission authority could land 500 MW of wind power it would go a long way toward retiring the Newark plant, which also is one of America's dirtiest.
But who worries about those toxins? Prevailing winds fan them across the Mississippi. Global warming? That's China's, India's, the maritime islands' and our grandchildren's issue.
Clean Line looks like a reality. Investors first asked for permits from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee to build the line and use utilities' eminent domain power. It quickly got them from the other two state utility commissions, but the Arkansas Public Service Commission said it could not issue a permit because Clean Line was not a utility under Arkansas law. It seemed to invite Clean Line to apply again, but the legislature stepped in last year to prevent it. Gov. Hutchinson signed a bill by Republican legislators that bars a permit for a non-utility electric transmission entity unless it is directed by a regional transmission organization to build it.
So Clean Line hooked up with the Energy Department, which agreed to partner with it under the terms of the Bush administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005. The delegation should take it up with Bush and Cheney.