LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Federal regulators said Monday they will let Arkansas enforce a portion of its own haze-reduction program, prompting criticism from environmentalists who say the plan is too weak.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved Arkansas' proposal for reducing nitrogen oxide, which with sulfur dioxide contributes to haze. Additional parts of the state's haze-reduction plan are still under review.
Under provisions of the Clean Air Act, which targets haze in national parks and national wildlife areas, Arkansas was obligated to establish a plan to address pollution. The EPA in 2012 took issue with part of Arkansas' proposal and then set up its own in 2016 after the state never resubmitted revisions. After the federal plan set emission limits on specific power plants, Arkansas said in 2017 it would prefer a program in which utilities could "trade" emissions allowances.
The Sierra Club says the state program, now approved, dismantles clean air protections.
"This plan weakens protections for Arkansans that were developed in 2012, encourages continued use of aging and dirty coal-fired power plants, and does little to reduce the nitrogen oxides that contribute to haze in our parks and wilderness areas," the Sierra Club said in a statement.
The group had said previously that nitrogen oxide contributes to ground-level ozone that can be hazardous.
The EPA said Monday the 2016 proposal put in place for Arkansas was among those "imposed" on states by the Obama administration, but the Sierra Club said the EPA only stepped in when Arkansas wouldn't act on its own.
"The notion that a federal regional haze plan was 'imposed' on Arkansas is ridiculous. Congress ordered states to clean up coal plant haze pollution in 1990," Director Glen Hooks said. He said Arkansas didn't forward a plan until 2011 — more than two decades after Congress acted.
In a statement, Arkansas' political leaders praised the decision to follow Arkansas' plan.
"The state's proposed approach achieves greater environmental results while providing flexibility to Arkansas power plants and reducing costs to ratepayers," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
Representatives from Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest utility, did not reply to telephone calls or emails seeking comment.