Oklahoma has won a reprieve on implementing a potentially costly federal plan to limit visibility issues caused by emissions from the state's aging coal plants.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a stay Friday, blocking enforcement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional haze plan.
Oklahoma officials and utility companies have criticized the EPA plan since the agency last year rejected the state's plan to reduce emissions that affect visibility at federal wildlife areas.
They contend the EPA plan could result in hefty electricity rate increases if utilities are forced to install expensive scrubbers.
Tulsa-based Public Service Co. of Oklahoma withdrew its objections to the EPA plan in April when it announced an agreement to phase out its last two state coal plants, but Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. continues to fight against the federal plan.
Friday's ruling blocks implementation of the plan until the appeals court can review it.
“We're pleased with the court's decision and believe it's the right approach,” OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said. “It prevents us from having to make costly investments and ensures that an economic burden isn't placed on our customers before the 10th Circuit rules on the case.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the ruling was a “significant victory” for the state.
“It temporarily prevents the EPA from enforcing a federal plan that will raise utility rates for Oklahoma consumers,” Pruitt said. “The EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act and we will continue to challenge that decision to preserve the ability of Oklahoma stakeholders to create an Oklahoma solution.”
The Sierra Club intervened in the case on the EPA's side. Whitney Pearson, associate organizing representative for the group's Beyond Coal campaign, said the Sierra Club was disappointed with the stay.
“This safeguard would go a long way to restore clean, healthy air to Oklahoma's communities,” Pearson said. “However, this is only a temporary setback, and we are optimistic that the safeguard is well supported by scientific and medical evidence, and that it will be upheld this fall after the court has the opportunity to review the merits of the case.”
Pearson called on OG&E to follow PSO's lead in retiring its Oklahoma coal plants.
The EPA said it would determine the “appropriate next steps” after reviewing the court's decision.