The passage of HB1895 shows the power of SWEPCO, its parent company AEP and the electric cooperatives in our state. SWEPCO wrote HB1895 for one purpose: to make null and void a hunt club's case against SWEPCO now pending before the Arkansas Supreme Court. HB1895 will grease the rails for ANY large utility company, such as AEP, to come into our state and site a power plant wherever they please.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) is pretty much an insider's ball game and the subtleties of process make it difficult to understand why these changes are so harmful, but HB1895 will alter and dilute protections the public has enjoyed for 35 years under current law. To be clear, landowners will suffer from the passage of this bill. Ratepayers will suffer from the passage of this bill. The environment will suffer from this bill. And, transparency and public participation at the APSC will suffer.
HB1895 authorizes the "need" for a power plant to be determined first, in a separate hearing that will undoubtedly be attended only by the APSC and the utility. While a promise was extracted from John Bethel, executive director of the PSC's general staff, by Sen. Percy Malone, who voted for the bill, that the public would be notified, it is an empty gesture. Since the "need" hearing will not include any discussion of where the plant is to be sited, no landowner will be aware that his land is threatened. This is exactly the process that was followed by the PSC in the case of Hunt Club vs. SWEPCO and that was declared illegal by the Arkansas Supreme Court. When the need docket for the Turk Plant was held, SWEPCO had not even announced whether the facility would be located in Arkansas. It is "fundamentally unfair," Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson declared in the committee meeting yesterday.
HB1895 also reduces the environmental rigor of the law for the siting of power plants. The only permitting required will be by state agencies, like ADEQ. This permitting is minimal and relieves the PSC of one of its primary responsibilities in protecting the public's interest in a rigorous investigation of environmental impact. The 600 MW coal-fired Turk plant under construction now is sited next to one of the most important natural areas remaining in Arkansas. The Little River Bottoms, of which the famed Grassy Lake is a part, is an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area. The site generates bird populations for the entire region. Endangered species present did not slow down SWEPCO or the PSC in their siting nor their full-speed-ahead construction efforts. This was another issue SWEPCO lost on before a federal court this past winter.
The sponsors state that HB1895 has nothing to do with the Turk plant, and yet it has everything to do with Turk, since its passage makes moot the legal issues related to critical PSC policy changes in litigation being considered now by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
I believe the Senate committee understood that, if HB1895 failed to pass, the Turk plant would continue to be built and that not one job would have been lost as a result of their not passing it.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, as expected, voted her conscience under great pressure. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson led a penetrating discussion of the bill, and also voted against HB1895.
One of the more heartbreaking testimonies of the committee hearing was that of the superintendent of the Mineral Springs-Saratoga School District, Max Adcock, who spoke emotionally about the economic need for the plant, saying "I'm here for my kids, no other reason."
What will he say in a few years when the levels of asthma and autism in his school are elevated and the fish pulled from the rivers and streams are so contaminated that people cannot eat them?
SWEPCO will not consider burning natural gas at the Turk plant, despite the fact that other coal-fired plants around the nation are asking their public utility commissions for permission to convert to this fuel. Natural gas, which Arkansas produces, would be the far better choice for fueling the Turk plant. Natural gas is as cheap as coal, yet burns far cleaner, not spewing the toxins or mercury of coal. Better compliance with regulations for the extraction of natural gas can make the process far more palatable to Arkansans concerned about the environment. From an economic, health and environmental aspect, burning natural gas would be a far better choice for Turk. Why will SWEPCO not consider this alternative?
Rod: Ease off
Some may know him as a member of the acclaimed band Ho-Hum and some know him as "that annoying political guy." Rod Bryan's race as the 2006 independent gubernatorial candidate has been a catalyst for his political juices. He worked very hard to receive the appropriate signatures for the ballot and should be commended for his hard work. Although I've only met him a couple times, I feel he is a likeable and good hearted guy.
Ok, now that I've given Rod his props, can I say — Rod you're starting to scare me!
During the recent legislative sessions, Rod has made it a point to schedule protests and speak on every issue known to man. That in itself is a freedom this country was founded on. However, Rod's brash and often smart-a** approach is starting to wear a bit thin with legislators and common folk alike. Even if he has some valid points, few will find him to be a creditable source for argument. Rod has glorified his disrespect for many members in Arkansas government by refusing to shake Gov. Beebe's hand during debate, comparing Gov. Beebe to Muammar Gaddafi, being restrained during public addresses and playing the role of class clown during legislative hearings. Why are these tactics necessary? Apparently, they're not working and secondly, it's not necessary.
Rod's now producing an underground TV show where he posts videos of all his antics and offers an online live rant. Mr. Bryan, I'm starting to question your sincerity and I know A LOT of other people are as well. Please prove us wrong.
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