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NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A state regulatory panel Friday upheld an air quality permit for the utility that’s building a $1.6 billion coal-fired electric plant in Hempstead County.
The 7-1 vote by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission accepted a hearing officer’s recommendation that an appeal by opponents of the 600-megawatt plant near Texarkana be turned away.
The Sierra Club and landowners near the plant sought to block the permit, arguing that the Southwest Electric Power Co. facility would generate too much mercury, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.
Friday’s ruling clears only part of the way for the utility. Still pending is SWEPCO’s challenge to an Arkansas Court of Appeals ruling that invalidated a permit issued by the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Shreveport, La.-based SWEPCO and its parent company, American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio, have appealed that finding to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved the air quality permit in November 2008, but it was held up by the appeal. The panel’s finding could still be challenged in court.
Attorney Frederick Addison, representing the Hempstead County Hunting Club, argued that emissions from the John W. Turk Plant would be too great, while utility attorney Kelly McQueen argued that the plant would be the “most stringently controlled pulverized coal plant in the country.”
Addison said the permit should be invalidated because commission members weren’t subject to financial disclosure, which would have revealed that former panel member Thomas Schueck’s company did business with the Shaw Group, the company building the plant.
But McQueen said the commission followed the law, which she said was affirmed by hearing officer Michael O’Malley. She said mentioning Schueck’s business ties was an attempt to distract commissioners from legitimate issues.
“It (the issuing of the permit) was the product of a process that worked,” McQueen said.
Addison also argued that SWEPCO should not have relied on wind pattern data gathered at the airport in Shreveport, saying the distance and difference in terrain render the results invalid. But McQueen said the areas are similar enough to be scientifically sound.
Sierra Club attorney Richard Mays said the plant would generate 264 million tons of carbon dioxide over 50 years.
SWEPCO intends to sell much of the power from the plant to other utilities.
“Arkansas is going to get only 15 percent of the electricity generated by this plant,” Mays said, “but it’s going to get all of the pollution.”