Leader Blues

Thursday, January 31, 2008

EDITORIAL>>Texas fights polluters!

No state government anywhere, unless it is Arkansas, is supposed to be kinder to the big energy companies than Texas. Sure, unlike Arkansas, Texas has always made miners and drillers pay some hefty taxes for the resources they sever from beneath the tumbleweeds but it has always regulated with a gentle hand.

Imagine our surprise this week when an administrative judge for the Texas Public Utility Commission said the commission should reject a proposal by Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) to erect a coal-fired electricity-generating plant in southwest Arkansas. The company does not need the 600 megawatts of power the plant would generate and homeowners should not have to pay far higher light bills to build the plant, the judge said. The cost is $1.3 billion and rising.

When the same issues were presented to the Arkansas Public Service Commission in 2006, the commission wasted no time in saying flatly that the plant was needed. All three commissioners then were appointees of Gov. Mike Huckabee, the latter-day populist.

A slightly different commission, with two of the three commissioners named by Gov. Mike Beebe, held last fall that the plant also would pump an acceptable amount of poison into the atmosphere and nearby streams. The big pollutant — some 5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year — will circulate around the globe and lift atmospheric temperatures for the next hundred years or so, but neither the state nor federal governments has ever set a standard for how much of the greenhouse gas is acceptable. So the PSC, by a vote of 2 to 1, said build it.

The Texas utility judge said the pollution from the Turk plant between Hope and Texarkana would not hurt Texas especially since most of the pollutants, except for CO2, would be deposited in Arkansas, but that SWEPCO simply did not need the extra wattage to serve its customers in the region for the foreseeable future. The largest share of the power users, 167,000 retail customers, live in Texas. They will pay higher utility bills for the plant, as will customers in southwest Arkansas.

But SWEPCO said the law judge’s findings and a negative commission ruling in Texas, if it comes to that, will be pointless because it plans to build and crank up the generators anyway.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality must sign off on the plant, too, and it has been mute for more than a year. Those regulators, too, can take the shortsighted view that since the harm from the plant will be as much global as local, you might as well let them build it and collect a good profit on the investment. Let us hope that they take the matter at least as seriously as Texas.