In a press release coordinated with Arkansas’s Republican governor and other Republican politicians, Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has announced its approval of a more lenient standard for emissions from Arkansas’s coal-burning power plants.

Here’s how the EPA put it:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt approved revisions to the Arkansas Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP) for nitrogen oxide at electric-generating units within the state. This action is the first step to replacing the embattled and one-size-fits-all Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) dating back to 2012.

“Arkansas’s revised plan is yet another excellent example of the positive environmental outcomes we are achieving across the country from a cooperative federalism approach,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “After working closely with Arkansas, this action returns power back to the rightful hands of the state and gives them the necessary flexibility to improve air quality across the Natural State.”

During the Obama Administration, more than 50 FIPs were imposed on states, including nearly 20 under the Regional Haze program. Under the Trump Administration, with Administrator Pruitt’s leadership, EPA has turned at least one FIP into a SIP approximately every month and over 200 SIPs have been approved since March 1, 2017. States are best suited to run their clean-air programs and EPA will continue to work with our state partners to make sure Clean Air Act standards are met in Arkansas and across the country.

The FIP for Arkansas was the final Regional Haze Plan of the overreaching Obama Administration and requires the installation of more than $2 billion in control technology for minimal visibility improvement. EPA has been working with Arkansas for the last year to update the state’s plan in lieu of the FIP currently in place. This well-coordinated, cooperative approach, allows the state flexibility to meet federal requirements while ensuring the protection of human health and the environment.

“I am pleased with EPA’s announcement that they have approved Arkansas’s plan,” said Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. “The state’s proposed approach achieves greater environmental results while providing flexibility to Arkansas power plants and reducing costs to ratepayers.”

“I applaud the EPA for approving a plan favored by the state and allowing Arkansas leaders to maintain a role in improving our state’s air quality. The agency’s decision to accept revisions to the State Implementation Plan and abandon its overreaching regulation is a win for all Arkansas citizens,” said U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR).

“It’s decisions like this one that are slowly but surely rebuilding trust between rural America and the EPA. I’m glad to see the EPA focus on concrete problems, like haze and other forms of pollution, and also show respect for our state officials’ authority. It’s a much-needed corrective to the heavy-handed ways of the previous administration, and I look forward to our state developing its own implementation plan, working in cooperation with—not under the thumb of—the EPA,” said U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).

“It is a breath of fresh air to be working with new administration officials who are helping Arkansas achieve environmental outcomes that benefit all Arkansans. Under the leadership of Administrator Pruitt, the EPA has shed its combative approach on this issue and recognized the important role of cooperative federalism to achieve clean air objectives. I look forward to President Trump’s continued efforts to free the Natural State from excessive federal regulations, while supporting reasonable approaches to protect Arkansans and their environment for generations to come,” said Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3).

“I commend EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration for working with the State of Arkansas to revise its Regional Haze State Implementation Plan. Top-down rule-making from the previous administration put Arkansas jobs at risk and would have done nothing to improve air quality in the Natural State. Administrator Pruitt heard our concerns and worked with the state to implement realistic goals achievable in a reasonable time frame,” said Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-4).

“EPA believes states know best how to serve their communities and run their clean-air programs,” said EPA Region 6 Administrator Anne Idsal. “By working together, EPA and our state partners in Arkansas have established a clean-air plan that protects the environment while providing flexibility for industry.”

“I’m thrilled that EPA has approved the first phase of our regional haze plan. Arkansas’s plan guarantees that our state will continue to achieve reasonable progress. We look forward to continued cooperation and engagement with EPA on state-based solutions,” said Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh.

Under Section 169A of the Clean Air Act, states are required to develop SIPs that ensure reasonable progress toward the national goal of addressing visibility impairment in designated “class I areas” like national parks and wilderness areas. FIPs have been imposed when EPA disapproves or only partially approves a SIP or when states could not or do not submit SIPs.

In January 2018, the EPA announced its decision to revisit aspects of the 2017 Regional Haze Rule revisions and plans to provide additional guidance for regional haze State Implementation Plan revisions due in 2021.

“Breath of fresh air” to allow more haze?

Arkansas is NOT best suited to deal with polluters, if the Buffalo River hog farm fiasco and the failure alone among the states to complete a clean water plan are any indication, to name just a couple of examples.


The Sierra Club had praised the Obama administration EPA’s work on a stronger haze reduction plan for its benefits to the Buffalo River and Ouachita National Forest. The Sierra Club sued when the state failed to develop an adequate plan to control emissions at power plants. That led to a national rule, but Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined business interests and other Republican politicians in fighting the cleaner air standard.

Sierra Club promises a statement soon. But Glen Hooks notes that this decision is only on one part of the plan, that public comments are still being taken on the second part of a draft plan on the haze reduction program.


UPDATE: The Sierra Club response:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a weak clean air plan for Arkansas. 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, and ozone smog in cities like St. Louis and Memphis.

Major polluters in Arkansas are required to take action on reducing pollution that clouds the skies in certain national parks and wilderness areas like the Upper Buffalo River and Caney Creek Wilderness. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) failed to take action on addressing this pollution, resulting in the U.S. EPA being required by federal law to step in and write a plan for Arkansas. In 2016, the federal plan was ultimately approved while shortly after the approval, the state of Arkansas sued to block the federal plan and write its own plan that they refused to write in previous years.

In its recent release, EPA and Arkansas officials congratulated themselves for this alarming development of rolling back clean air safeguards and allowing more pollution.

In response to today’s action, the Arkansas Sierra Club issued the following statement from its Director, Glen Hooks:

“It’s a shame to see federal and state officials casting aspersions on the previous process—all the while ignoring the state agency’s significant role in delaying clean air protections for Arkansans and residents of nearby states.

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. The State of Arkansas got an extension, and then the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality was supposed to submit a plan by 2007. ADEQ did not do so until 2011, twenty-one years after Congress acted. The late ADEQ plan was largely disapproved because Arkansas failed to meet its basic requirements of the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Program, and ADEQ refused to submit a revised plan that actually required polluters to reduce emissions. Once that happened, federal law required that U.S. EPA write a plan for Arkansas. EPA wrote a draft plan, held a public hearing in Little Rock, ook hundreds of public comments from Arkansans, and finalized the plan in 2016. After all of that, now the state has sued to block the federal plan and is finally writing its own weak plan—27 years after Congress told states to clean up haze emissions in 1990.

Simply put, due to ADEQ’s delay and litigation, cleaning up smog in Arkansas’s national parks and wilderness areas is decades behind schedule. The 2012 federal plan went after the oldest, most inefficient, and dirtiest sources of air pollution in our states and contained strong action steps. ADEQ’s decade-late replacement plan is weak and toothless, and will not require our state’s oldest and dirtiest coal-burning power plants to do much of anything. Real action on pollution requires real leadership, not simply bowing down to big polluters.

In short: today’s action amounts to EPA rejecting its own clean air plan that it wrote and approved in 2016, in favor of a much weaker state plan in 2018 while patting itself on the back for its so-called environmental leadership. Arkansans can see this for what it is —an effort to dismantle clean air protections for our parks while propping up the dirty coal plants that foul them.”