Friday, December 14, 2007

Just More Hot Air

Last March the state legislature passed and Governor Beebe signed Act 696 to establish a state Global Warming Commission to study the issue and make recommendations in 2008. Environmental groups hailed it as a great victory. It sailed through both houses, because it was virtually toothless to do anything and required no appropriation. Yet there were some who opposed even investigating the issue. In the House, three of the four votes against it came from Benton County Republican Reps. Mike Kenney, Daryl Pace, and Aaron Burkes, while Washington County's Mark Martin (R-Prairie Grove) demonstrated his legendary courage by voting Present. In the Senate, all three votes against it came from Northwest Arkansas Republicans Bill Pritchard, Kim Hendren, and Ruth Whitaker.

Governor Beebe's appointments to the 21-member commission included three very qualified Fayetteville residents:
Dr. Art Hobson, Dr. Betty Martin, and Dr. Cindy Sagers. He also appointed lobbyists for the state Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, electric utilities, and an oil company. At its meeting yesterday, now nine months after the legislation passed, the Commission took its first action. It hired an out-of-state consulting firm for $50,000 to give it a list of options to consider. Big whoopie.

Meanwhile, on the same day, the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate deftly
gutted the energy bill by threatening a filibuster. Gone in a moment were incentives for clean energy industries, including wind, solar, biomass and carbon capture from coal plants, and a requirement that investor-owned utilities generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources. Does our Global Warming Commission really think that Arkansas legislators will be any more likely to stand up to the Chamber and the utility companies and do anything meaningful?

Just last month, the state
Public Service Commission, led by Beebe's Chairman Paul Suske, approved construction of SWEPCO's 600-megawatt coal-fired electric plant near Texarkana that will spew 5 million tons of planet-killing CO2 into the atmosphere every year, not to mention mercury, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulates, volatile organic compounds, and lead. Rogers attorney David Matthews, a former Democrat legislator and now hired mouthpiece for SWEPCO, noted that not a single one of Governor Beebe's state agency directors chose to intervene against the coal plant, and suggested, “It is safe to assume that the agencies have concluded that the environmental issues are well enough under control that no intervention was necessary.”

Local environmentalist opposed to the carbon-gushing coal plant are
pinning their hopes on a petition beseeching Governor Beebe to hold up any construction work by SWEPCO until after the Global Warming Commission issues its report. That's the same Governor Beebe who appointed Paul Suskie to head the PSC and sent not a single one of his appointed agency directors to intervene in the case. Lots of luck.

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