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Court rejects coal power plant permit for SW Arkansas

The Arkansas Court of Appeals says "no" to a coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County saying the power company didn't do enough to notify the public about the $1.6 billion project before it started.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals says "no" to a coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County saying the power company didn't do enough to notify the public about the $1.6 billion project before it started.

Environmentalists say it's the first step to preserving clean air.  The plant is already under construction near Fulton, but may never get finished now.

The coal-fired plant would provide power for 400,000 electric customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas once completed.  But Glen Hooks with the Sierra Club says the work in southwest Arkansas may stop soon.

"A unanimous court of appeals said that SWEPCO did not follow proper procedures for getting their permit,” Hooks says.  “They've yanked that permit and sent them back to square one."

The Arkansas Court of Appeals in a 32-page ruling said Southwestern Electric Power Company didn't do enough to notify the public when they applied for their permit.  And the Arkansas Public Service Commission got it wrong by granting the permit, because it never established whether the 600-megawatt plant is even needed.

"We're asking that SWEPCO immediately stop construction on this plant because they do not have a permit," Hooks says.

Construction Work Continues After Court Ruling

But FOX16 News cameras captured construction trucks coming in and out of the plant site on Wednesday after the ruling was handed down.

The SWEPCO plant had an original opening date of summer 2011.  With this latest court of appeals decision however, that opening could be delayed.

"If they continue construction now, in the face of a unanimous court opinion, they're taking an incredibly large gamble, with rate-payers money," Hooks says.

SWEPCO spokesperson Peter Main tells FOX16 News the electric provider is still deciding what to do next.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the ruling,” Main says.  “However we’re still reviewing the decision and won’t comment further right now.”

"This is not just a small, bothersome thing for SWEPCO.  It's a major roadblock for them,” Hook says.  “We think it's an opportunity for everyone to step back and reassess whether this power plant is the right idea.

Many states are moving away from coal, the Sierra Club cites 99 power plants rejected over the last five years as evidence the public finds the environmental risk of coal far outweighs the benefits.

Governor Mike Beebe issued a statement Wednesday after the ruling saying if SWEPCO reapplies for a permit, then all parties should be allowed to weigh in with their opinion on the project.

The environmental group Audobon Arkansas says the ruling will allow the state to find alternatives to coal-fired plants.

Calls to the PSC for comment were not returned.
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