STATUS: In progress; Under construction
OPPOSITION: Sierra Club, Hempsted Country Hunting Club, National Audubon Society, Environmental Integrity Project
PROSPECTS: Delayed by litigation, but construction continues
BACKGROUND: Southwestern Electric Power Co (SWEPCO), a subsidiary of American Electric Power, has proposed a 600 MW coal plant – Hempstead, also known as the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant, that would utilize ultra-supercritical technology and burn coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
SWEPCO filed an application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need with the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and the commission approved the project with a 2-1 vote on Nov. 21.
In March, the Louisiana Public Service Commission approved SWEPCO's construction permit. In May, the Hempstead County Hunting Club filed suit to block construction because the company had begun clearing trees and delivering construction materials without an Arkansas DEQ (ADEQ) permit. In July, the Texas Public Utility Commission approved SWEPCO's permit application. In August, ADEQ issued a draft Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) permit requiring SWEPCO to regulate mercury and other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) emissions. On August 26, the Sierra Club submitted a letter to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Rural Utilities Service (RUS), claiming that they are in violation of federal law by approving investments in a number of new coal-fired projects without assessing environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On September 25, East Texas Electric Cooperative (ETEC) filed a suit against the Sierra Club and USDA.
On February 11, Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for failing to respond to the groups' Title V petition. On March 19, SWEPCO was ordered to stop construction on a portion of wetlands at the plant site. According to SWEPCO, the wetlands were accidentally cleared before receiving the required 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers. In May, a group of landowners appealed the state Public Service Commission's decision to move forward with the plant. The state Court of Appeals rejected SWEPCO's Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need ruling that the PSC did not adequately review the project before approving the certificate. On July 8, SWEPCO petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals' ruling. On August 26, Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society petitioned the Arkansas Pollution Control & Ecology Commission to deny SWEPCO's air permit or stop construction. The Commission denied the motion on September 25. On December 9, hearing officer Michael O'Malley recommended approval of the plant's final air permit to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. On December 15, EPA issued an order in response to a petition from the Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project and Audubon, ruling that the Arkansas DEQ's justification for not considering integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology in the permit's best available control technology (BACT) analysis was inadequate.
In January, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission approved Hempstead's air permit. Sierra Club attorneys vowed to continue fighting the plant. In February, Sierra Club and Audubon sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act in issuing a permit to SWEPCO to fill wetlands and remove water from the Little River on the Turk plant site, arguing the Corps did not adequately consider the Turk plant's cumulative environmental impacts before issuing the permit. On May 13, Arkansas' highest court unanimously sided with the appeals court and remanded the matter back to the PSC. On June 24, SWEPCO announced that construction will proceed but the utility will sell the power designated for Arkansas retail customers to other markets. In other words, rather than recover Turk-related costs through customer bills, SWEPCO will sell 88 megawatts into the wholesale market.
As of June 2010, SWEPCO's projected completion date was October 2012, and the estimated cost is $1.6 billion. SWEPCO stated that approximately $1.01 billion had been spent on the project, including $786 million by SWEPCO for its 73 percent share of the plant, as of May, 31, 2010. Furthermore, SWEPCO and the joint owners have an additional $436 million in contractual commitments for the plant.
On July 16, the Sierra Club and Audubon asked the U.S. District Court in Texarkana to issue a temporary restraining order to halt construction in wetlands at the construction site. On October 27, Judge William R. Wilson issued a preliminary injunction stating SWEPCO may not dredge, fill, or build an intake structure or work on power lines crossing rivers. Wilson commented about broader issues related to the plant, remarking, “There is no other evidence of need — outside of SWEPCO’s bare assertions — anywhere in the record.” Wilson noted the State appellate court’s reversal of the PSC approval due to insufficient environmental assessment. SWEPCO has asked for reconsideration and states “other work will continue.”
LINKS: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Hempstead (citations omitted)
LAST UPDATED: November 9, 2010