MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 17, 2012

Sierra Club protests coal as fuel

Demonstration coincides with OGE meeting

— Environmentalists campaigned Thursday against the use of coal as an energy source at a shareholders meeting of a company that operates two of the state’s oldest coal-fired plants.

The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, commissioned a plane to fly a banner over downtown Oklahoma City, where OGE Energy Corp. shareholders were meeting.

The banner urged the company’s subsidiary, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, to “move beyond coal,” a slogan the group uses in its campaign to end the use of the fossil fuel.

Clean-air advocates argue that the use of coal contributes to unhealthy levels of pollution that can lead to higher incidences of asthma, reduced lung function and other respiratory illnesses.

An OG&E spokesman said the addition of coal in its mix of available fuels reduces the financial risks to consumers by keeping energy costs down. The spokesman said the company works to “ensure all of our facilities are in compliance with any new standards” with regard to pollution.

“When you put all of your eggs in one fuel basket you expose customers to unnecessary risks,” said the  spokesman, Brian Alford said. “Our intent is to ensure that the cost impact of these types of decisions on our customers is weighed heavily in this conversation.”

OG&E owns and operates two of three coal-fired power plants targeted by the Environmental Protection Agency for major changes. One is located between Muskogee and Fort Gibson. The second is south of Ponca City in Noble County.

Public Service Company of Oklahoma operates the third plant, which is located near Oologah. PSO, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, announced in April that it plans to retire its coal-fired generators there by 2026.

Nancy Zorn, a Sierra Club volunteer and OG&E shareholder, said coal costs more than other energy sources when public health is factored into the equation. Statistics cited by Sierra Club show asthma-related illnesses cost Oklahomans $57.9 million in health-care costs and loss of wages and productivity in 2007.

“Coal isn’t cheap when you add in all the health-care costs and costs from pollution,” Zorn said in a media release. “OG&E will need to reduce its pollution under the Clean Air Act and, as a shareholder, I believe the better long-term option is to retire its oldest and dirtiest plants and invest in clean energy instead.”

Whitney Pearson, an organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Thursday’s campaign was an effort to get OG&E to commit to a healthier and more economic strategy.

“We are calling on OG&E today to make a strong commitment for the health and economy of Oklahoma: Move beyond coal,” Pearson said. “OG&E is considering right now whether to install pollution controls that will keep us chained to dirty coal power for decades or whether to follow PSO’s lead and retire the oldest, dirtiest coal plants in the state. We think the right choice is clear.”

David Ocamb, director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter, said now is the time to abandon coal and look toward renewable energy sources. Wind power, Ocamb said, has created more than 2,000 jobs in the state and has the potential of creating many more.

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

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