Southwestern Electric Power Company held a press conference today and announced that it will ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision to reject the permit for the John W. Turk coal-powered plant in Hempstead County. Paul Chodak, President and Chief Operating Officer, accused the Appellate Court of “changing the rules” when it overturned the 2007 Arkansas Public Service Commission approval of the plant. “This Appellate court decision NOW seeks to reverse 30 years of practice and procedure and changes the rules without warning,” said Chodak. “With all due respect, SWEPCO believes that the court got it wrong.”
What rules are Chodak talking about? Under the Arkansas law, approval of major facilities must be done in a single proceeding (AR Code Annotated section 23-18-502;2). The Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) split the approval process for the Turk plant into several different proceedings. The Court of Appeals ruled that the PSC violated the law. SWEPCO argues that the law has not been previously interpreted by the courts, and since the case involves substantial public interest, the decision should not be made by “first impression.”
Furthermore, SWEPCO argues that the Court of Appeals reversed the initial, not the final, decision by the PSC that approved the permit to build the plant. The company claims that the Hempstead County Hunting Club and its partners never challenged the final decision, thus the court should not rule on the final decision.
Chodak blamed national organizations such as the Sierra Club and Audubon for opposing the plant and destroying economic development opportunities in southwest Arkansas. He stated that the construction of the Turk plant will continue as the company seeks the Supreme Court review of the case.
Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club issued the following statement:
“The Arkansas Court of Appeals, in a 6-0 ruling, unanimously ruled that SWEPCO did not follow the law when permitting the Turk plant. Even multimillion dollar corporations are required to follow the law. In order to build its dirty coal-fired power plant, SWEPCO must resubmit its application to the Arkansas Public Service Commission and follow the law.
Since SWEPCO does not currently have a valid certificate from the Arkansas Public Service Commission, we ask that they immediately cease construction of the Turk plant.
Across the country, states are saying ‘no’ to dirty coal-fired power. Since 2001, ninety-nine proposed coal-fired power plants have been rejected or abandoned as too risky to our environmental, economic, and public health. Arkansas should follow the lead of its neighbors in Oklahoma , Louisiana , and Texas and reject the Turk plant.
We look forward to working with the Arkansas PSC if and when SWEPCO resubmits its application, and are confident that the plant will be ultimately rejected.”
So what now? The Arkansas Supreme Court will decide whether it will hear the case by August. If the Court refuses to hear the case, the Court of Appeals’ decision will become final, thus SWEPCO must cease the construction.
If the Supreme Court grants a review, the construction of the plant may continue until the end of the year, at which time all the legal proceedings for this case are expected to end.
Will the Arkansas Supreme Court grant a review of the case, which was ruled unanimously against SWEPCO? Will SWEPCO continue to construct? Is it risky or imprudent to continue to construct considering the Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision against SWEPCO? Who will pay for $713 million that SWEPCO already spent on the plant if the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case? SWEPCO? Arkansas ratepayers?
Stay tuned for my analysis, which I will post soon.