LITTLE ROCK — A bill aimed at stopping a project to transmit wind energy across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee passed out of a U.S. House committee Wednesday.
In a 19-11 vote, the House Committee on Natural Resources advanced the Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Access to Land, or APPROVAL, Act by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. The bill goes to the House.
Womack filed the bill in response to a project by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston to construct a $2 billion transmission line that would transmit 4,000 megawatts of wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to distribution centers in Arkansas and Tennessee, with Arkansas receiving 500 megawatts of that energy. The U.S. Department of Energy has said it will participate in the project, pending certain conditions.
The bill would requiring projects like the Plains & Eastern Clean Line to be placed on federal, rather than private, land whenever possible and would require that they be approved by governors and regulators in states where the projects are to be located.
Womack and Arkansas Reps. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and French Hill, R-Little Rock, along with the committee's chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, issued a joint news release Wednesday hailing the bill's progress.
"The success of the APPROVAL Act in committee today is yet another positive step toward passage in a long and hard-fought battle to allow states to retain the historic precedent of authority for interstate transmission projects," Womack said in the release.
"The administration has consistently demonstrated a lack of acknowledgment of this right through three years of conversations with our delegation, leading us to this legislative fix, and I commend my colleagues for recognizing the need to reverse this all-too-common trend of ceding power to the federal government through their overwhelming support for my legislation," he said.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has filed a matching Senate bill that is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Clean Line said in a statement Wednesday it was "disappointed" by the committee vote.
"If a bill like this were to become law, it would kill jobs by creating significant barriers to the many businesses in Arkansas, and other states, that build American infrastructure, as well as raise electric power costs. Denying American consumers access to the lowest-cost clean energy resources is never good policy," the company said.
Clean Line said more than $100 million in private funds has been invested in the project, which will not use any tax dollars, and noted that the project was approved after a six-year review process.
"The project has received supportive comments from thousands of Americans, including more than 3,000 Arkansans. Over 200 organizations and associations … have embraced the Plains & Eastern Clean Line because it will create jobs, provide low-cost energy, and result in cleaner air," the company said.
Glen Hooks, Arkansas director of the Sierra Club, said Wednesday, "The Clean Line project has been in the works since 2010, and has undergone a very thorough and expensive public permitting process in accordance with federal law. Representative Womack's bill seeks to change that law after the permitting process has been underway for years. That's not only bad for our state's air and economy — it's blatantly unfair to the company.
"Wind energy is good for America and this project is specifically good for Arkansas. We call on the Arkansas congressional delegation to drop their opposition, and to stand up for clean air, clean energy jobs, and fundamental fairness," he said.