Tuesday, June 09, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Polluters welcome

If you were gambling on the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission refusing a permit for the utilities to build a carbon-belching power plant in southwest Arkansas, Monday was the day to fold. On the first day of a two-week hearing, the administrative judge for the commission threw out the heart of the case against it.

No one seriously expected the commission to deny an air-pollution permit to Southwestern Electric Power Co. because the commission had signaled its decision last winter, when it said the utility should go ahead and build the plant without waiting for its formal decision. The state Public Service Commission and the Depart-ment of Environmental Quality, which are part of the three-tier process of state regulation, had already stamped their approval on the plant.

Michael O’Malley, the hearing officer for the commission, began the hearings by ruling that the plant’s carbon-dioxide emissions were not an issue in the case, so there was no point in presenting evidence or arguments about it. The plant’s expected emission of globe-polluting carbon gases — some 5 million tons of them a year — was the heart of the case put on by environmental groups and neighbors that have tried to stop the 600-megawatt plant.

Other states have canceled plans to build new coal-fired power plants because of global concerns that the greenhouse gases are heating the planet and endangering future life. They have turned to conservation and less polluting sources of fuel to generate electricity, but the government agencies in Arkansas see no problem if the utilities don’t see one.

O’Malley said that despite a U. S. Supreme Court decision that the federal Clean Air Act requires government to regulate carbon dioxide, the federal government still has not said exactly what is an acceptable amount of the pollution, so it is pointless for the little old state government to try to do it. Who are we down here to even guess how much poison the Earth and its species can stand? The utility says fast-growing Texas needs the extra power that the plant will generate in a few years. We need to suck it up and give it to them.

That is the state government we’ve learned to love.