Entergy Arkansas has reached an agreement with the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association to stop burning coal at two of its Arkansas facilities. The environmental groups have long been opposed to the use of coal and other fossil fuels in an age when fears of climate change are affecting change in industries across the globe.

Entergy operates the 1,659-megawatt White Bluff plant in Jefferson County and the 1,678-megawatt facility in Independence County.

The agreement allows the company”” to move forward with plans to replace these older generating plants with newer, highly efficient generation resources for Arkansas,” according to a company news release.

“The deal also provides a predictable transition for employees of the plants, a positive economic result for customers and an end to ongoing lawsuits over the use of coal at the plants,” the news release said.

In addition, the agreement includes a plan to cease operations within 9-12 years at the aging plants, each of which employ about 100 workers.

Entergy Arkansas’ White Bluff, Independence and Lake Catherine 4 plants will be replaced with newer, highly efficient technologies as part of an ongoing strategy to transform the company’s power generation portfolio to better meet customers’ needs today and in the future.

Currently, Entergy Arkansas uses a diverse mix of resources to generate electricity, including utility-scale solar investments, low-emitting modern natural-gas units and zero-emissions nuclear plants, the news release said.

“These generating units in Arkansas, and our employees who work there, have been an important part of Entergy Arkansas for approximately four decades,” said Laura Landreaux, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas.

“This agreement allows for a reasonable transition to new energy resources by extending the life of the plants and associated jobs for another nine to12 years while preparing for the future.”

Under the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program, the White Bluff and Independence plants are subject to a currently-stayed requirement of installing costly emissions control technologies by 2021 or ceasing to use coal at the plants. This agreement, if approved, will avoid this requirement, saving customers potentially $2 billion.

With the agreement in place, Entergy Arkansas, along with co-owners, will: Begin using only low-sulfur coal at the White Bluff and Independence coal plants starting no later than June 30, 2021. Cease to use coal entirely at White Bluff no later than the end of 2028. Cease to use coal entirely at Independence no later than the end of 2030. Continue to use only natural gas at the Lake Catherine 4 plant and cease operation of the plant by the end of 2027. Maintain the option to develop new generating sources at the plant sites. Pursue approval of 800 megawatts of renewable generating sources, with at least 400 megawatts brought to regulators no later than the end of 2022 and the remainder no later than the end of 2027. This includes the 181 megawatts of solar in Arkansas already approved by regulators. The agreement allows Entergy Arkansas to continue job and career-planning opportunities for employees at the plants beyond 2021 and furthers the company’s actions as an environmental leader.

In the Clean Air Act filed last week in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Entergy has agreed to cease coal use by the end of 2028 and 2030 at White Bluff and Independence, respectively, as well as retire the Lake Catherine gas plant by 2027.

This agreement resolves several claims by environmental groups alleging Entergy illegally modified the White Bluff and Independence plants without a permit, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The settlement additionally resolves multiple challenges to federal and state Clean Air Act regulations intended to protect the air in national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges across Arkansas and throughout the region.

Together, the White Bluff and Independence coal plants emitted over 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and 20,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in 2017, according to a news release from the Sierra Club. These plants rank sixth and thirteenth in combined SO2 and NOx emissions out of the hundreds of power plants across the United States, and have also been linked to increased levels of ozone smog, harming communities in St. Louis and Memphis.

The replacement of these plants with clean energy will eliminate 75 percent of the SO2 and 34 percent of the NOx from combined emissions from all the power plants and industrial smokestacks across Arkansas.

The two Entergy coal-burning plants have operated for more than three decades without modern pollution controls. They have been the largest sources of air pollution in Arkansas for decades. Combined, these three power plants are responsible for 59 percent of the carbon emissions from the entire electric sector in Arkansas. These reductions will significantly improve Arkansas’s air quality while reducing health risks for thousands of Arkansans.

Along with cutting emissions from the White Bluff, Independence and Lake Catherine power plants, this settlement will accelerate the creation of clean energy jobs in Arkansas. Entergy and the other plant co-owners will seek at least 400 MW of renewable energy by 2022 and another 400 MW by 2027.

In response Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas Sierra Club release, the following statement:

“Sierra Club is pleased to conclude our legal disputes with Entergy Arkansas and to reach a long-term agreement to stop burning coal at the old White Bluff and Independence power stations. Families, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies across Arkansas are demanding renewable energy, and retiring these old plants is an important step to transform our electric grid and attract new businesses. As these plants are retired, we hope that the utility protects workers, invests new capital in Arkansas communities, and helps former coal plant workers transition to other family-sustaining jobs within the company.”

Stephanie Kodish, Senior Director & Counsel of the National Parks Conservation

Association’s Clean Air Program released the following statement:

“Today’s agreement secures important and lasting reductions in air and climate pollution that has harmed national parks like Buffalo National River and communities across the region for decades. Ultimately, the transition of these plants will improve public health and air quality throughout the region.

“However, air pollution remains one of the most serious threats facing national parks harming the health of park visitors, wildlife and neighboring communities, as well as compromising some of our country’s most awe-inspiring views with hazy skies. NPCA is pleased that a compromise has been reached, and we will continue advocating to restore clean air and a healthy climate to our nation’s most iconic natural treasures.”