An administrative law judge presiding over hearings on an appeal of an air permit granted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to the $1.6 billion ultrasupercritical John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant proposed for Hempstead County, Ark., on Monday threw out arguments by environmentalists questioning whether carbon dioxide emissions from the plant were properly considered.

Michael O’Malley, the hearing officer charged with issuing a recommendation,  found it imprudent to rule based on a guess of what future federal policy may be, reported the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “I cannot find where carbon dioxide is presently regulated by EPA and I’m certain that it’s not by the state of Arkansas,” the newspaper quoted O’Malley as saying. “I cannot find that Department of Environmental Quality violated its requirement in taking a look at it. And you can’t just put a permit on hold until an uncertain point in the future.”

The hearings by the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission are expected to last two weeks. They pit The Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas, and area landowners against ADEQ and the plant’s owner, Southwest Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), which is an American Electric Power (AEP) subsidiary.

ADEQ granted SWEPCO a final air permit for the Turk plant—the first U.S. coal plant to use ultrasupercritical technology—in November 2008 after two years of review. The ADEQ permit, which had been tentatively approved by the department’s air division earlier last year, had been delayed by two public hearings and two separate public comment periods, during which hundreds of interested parties offered comments on the proposed permit, the regulatory agency said.

Lawyers for the environmental groups and landowners said at this week’s hearing that ADEQ did not fully consider the plant’s impact on the environment when it granted the permit, said the Arkansas News. ADEQ and SWEPCO lawyers said that the company had followed all applicable regulations, and that the Turk plant will be the cleanest coal plant in the U.S.

“It is nothing more than the next step of a marginal group of improvements going back to London in the 1880s, where every 15 or 20 years the power industry decides to slap a new superlative on the name of their facility and market it to commissions such as this one,” the newspaper quoted Rick Addison, attorney for the Hempstead County Hunting Club and other landowners, as saying in his opening statement. “The ‘ultra-supercritical’ name is really nonsense and hokum.”

SWEPCO attorney Kelly McQueen countered the statement by explaining the technology, adding that it was a significant advance.“Ultra-supercritical design uses extremely high temperature and pressure to maximize efficiency and thereby produce more electricity using less fuel and reducing carbon dust emissions,” she said.

The July issue of POWER will feature a story on the Turk plant’s steam turbine.

Sources: POWERnews, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Arkansas News