MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 27, 2013

Petition drive seeks to block state haze rule

Group fears plan would affect utility rates in state

Members of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans for Prosperity initiated a petition drive, urging state officials to reject the state’s revised plan to implement the regional haze rule.

State regulators submitted the revised plan on June 18 to the U.S. Environmental Agency for approval. Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, said the plan’s revision is intended to replace the federal implementation plan as it relates to Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s two coal-fired units at its Rogers County facility.

The revised state plan also addresses long-term strategies rejected by the EPA because the assumptions were based upon parts of the state’s first implementation plan rejected by federal regulators. McElhaney said the proposed revisions are also intended to address the requirements of the interstate transport provisions of the Federal Clean Air Act.

The remaining parts of the federal plan, which was upheld recently by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, would remain intact. The federal plan requires Oklahoma Gas & Electric to upgrade its emissions-reduction technologies at power plants the Oklahoma City-based company owns near Muskogee and Red Rock or switch to cleaner burning fuels.

The goal of the regional haze rule is to reduce emissions of fine particulates, which limit visibility in national parks, and sulfur dioxide, which can harm public health. Public health experts said sulfur dioxide emissions trigger asthma attacks and cause airway constriction and other respiratory problems.

AFP-OK Director Matt Ball said the organization objects to the federal implementation plan because of its potential impact on utility rates in Oklahoma. The petition states “ the plan paves the way for the job-killing EPA and liberal groups like the Sierra Club to use government over-reach to raise utility rates.”

“At a time when Oklahomans overwhelmingly agree that electricity rates are already too high, why should state policy-makers support a settlement agreement with the Obama EPA and other liberal environmental groups like the Sierra Club that will ... and pave the way for rates to be raised on all Oklahomans?” Ball states in a media release. “This plan hurts Oklahomans’ pocketbooks and makes our state less competitive for jobs.”

Ball’s assertions about Oklahoma’s high electricity rates in Oklahoma contradict data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Statistics show Oklahomans, who pay an average of 7.8 cents for every kilowatt hour consumed, enjoy some of the lowest rates in the nation.

The federal agency’s Electric Power Annual ranked Oklahoma as having the tenth lowest electricity rates in the nation. Even if industry estimates of a 20 percent rate hike materializes as a result of the regional haze rule — federal regulators say that estimate is higher than their calculations — electricity rates in Oklahoma would still be less than the national average of 9.9 cents for every kilowatt hour.

Whitney Pearson a field organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, said the claims made by Americans for Prosperity — a group backed by fossil-fuel interests — “are fact free and missing the mark.”

“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates prices of electricity from investor-owned utilities like OG&E and PSO, and it’s simply fear mongering to suggest that a plan to reduce air pollution is the same as Washington dictating electricity prices,” Pearson said. “In addition, PSO has not yet asked for a rate increase, and currently their estimate is only 11 percent.”

Pearson pointed out the 10th Circuit’s three-judge panel found OG&E’s calculations of the costs associated with upgrading its pollution control technology “were inflated and incorrect.” Pearson said abandoning coal as a fuel source would be an even better alternative than using improved pollution control technologies when it comes to “cleaning up the air.”

“Phasing out the old, expensive coal plants for cleaner sources of energy will save rate-payers money as many utilities across the country have realized, including PSO,” Pearson said. “They (PSO officials) chose the least-cost option to reduce their pollution and protect rate-payers.”

The AFP-OK petition advocated by Ball states the revised plan submitted by ODEQ would make Oklahoma “less economically competitive by dramatically increasing the cost of doing business which by many estimates has been historically low.” Pearson disputed that claim.

“Big companies are looking to states that can provide them cleaner and cheaper sources of power,”  Pearson said.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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