Panel denies air-code changes
BY MICHELLE HILLEN
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2008
Saying the request was premature, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday unanimously rejected a request by environmental groups to change Arkansas’ air code to consider carbon dioxide an “air contaminant.”
“I do think this is putting the cart before the horse,” commission member Scott Henderson, explaining that he believes the governor’s Global Warming Commission should have first crack at determining how carbon dioxide emissions should be regulated.
The commission, established last year, is studying ways state agencies can offset factors that might contribute to climate change.
“I don’t agree with the discussion about waiting for the federal government to do it, but I do think the Global Warming Commission has to do its work,” Henderson said.
The Arkansas Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas and the Environmental Integrity Project had filed a petition seeking to amend definitions included in Regulations 18 and 26 of the state’s airquality regulations. The proposal called for the definitions in both regulations to eliminate carbon dioxide from a list of emissions not considered air contaminants, including water vapor, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and inert gases.
The petition cited concerns that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can lead to higher maximum temperatures, more hot days, higher minimum temperatures, fewer cold days, more intense “precipitation events” and increased risk of drought.
Environmentalists argued their proposal wouldn’t immediately require regulation of carbon dioxide by the Environmental Quality Department. But industry and department officials disagreed.
“We are not opposed to the removal of this exemption.... We realize that global warming is a global problem,” department Director Teresa Marks said. “Our concern is unintended consequences, and the practicality of what we would do if the exemption was removed immediately.”
Marks said existing regulations would require the department to regulate anyone who emits more than 25 tons per year of an “air contaminant.” The department today doesn’t have the technology available to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, she said.
After more than a half-hour of comments from industry leaders and environmentalists, the commission approved an order supplied by the Arkansas Environmental Federation, an organization that lobbies on behalf of companies on environmental matters.
The order states that the request from the environmental- ists was defective for a number of reasons, including that it failed to include an economic impact statement and an environmental benefit analysis. Such statements are required by state law if the proposed change is more stringent than federal requirements.
Glen Hooks, regional representative of the Sierra Club, said he was surprised by the decision.
“I think what these guys have done is stand up and say we know CO 2 is a pollutant, we know it is a contaminant, but we don’t want to do anything about it,” Hooks said.
“They said it publicly, and I found it amazing.”
He said he and other environmentalists expect to bring forward a new petition that addresses the commissioners’ concerns sooner rather than later.
“We’ll be back,” said Ilan Levin of the Environmental Integrity Project.
The concerns can be addressed in a number of ways, including by increasing the allowable emission threshold from 25 tons per year, Levin said.
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