The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reversed itself Monday and ordered Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) to stop working on 8 acres of wetlands near the company’s $2.1 billion coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County.
In October, U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson issued an injunction halting work on the 8 acres where SWEPCO received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to discharge fill material into a wetland area. The Corps of Engineers issued a permit after it found that the work would have no significant impact on the environment in the area (called FONSI, or Finding of No Significant Impact).
The Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas, National Audubon Society, and several nearby residents sued the Corps in February, claiming that the Corps did not conduct an environmental impact study (EIS) before issuing the permit. The Hempstead County Hunting Club, which owns land near the plant, also sued the electric utility, citing violations of federal Endangered Species Act.
On November 24, a day before Thanksgiving, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Wilson’s injnction in a one-sentence order, allowing SWEPCO to continue its work in the area. The order contained no explanation for the reversal and was signed by a clerk with the Circuit Court but not by any judge.
Frustrated, Wilson recused from the case on December 8, stating “my time would be better spent working on other cases.”
Yesterday, three Circuit Court judges reversed the November 24 order, reinstating Wilson’s injunction and halting SWEPCO’s work in the 8-acre area. Work continues on other sections of the plant. The plant, known as the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant, is about 45 percent completed.
No judge has been appointed yet to replace Wilson in the case.