A decision last week by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was disappointing, and not simply because it ultimately could result in higher electric bills for customers of Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co.
The full court on Thursday denied OG&E's (and the state's) appeal of a ruling this summer by a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit. In that 2-1 ruling, judges said the federal Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to reject Oklahoma's pollution-control plan for dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, and that the EPA could impose a more stringent and far more costly plan.
The case stems from the EPA's determination in 2010 that visibility at wildlife refuges in Oklahoma showed the presence of pollution, or “regional haze,” from coal-fired power plants. The state produced a plan to reduce those emissions; the EPA said it wasn't adequate — no surprise, given that the Obama administration is intent on putting coal out of business.
That goal is shared by the Sierra Club and other groups that were allowed to intervene. Coal is first on their list. Natural gas is next. If it's a fossil fuel, it's a target.
OG&E continues to weigh its options, including a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meantime there's a 2018 deadline to get into compliance. Doing so will entail spending about $1.2 billion to install emission-control technology, called scrubbers, which could raise electricity rates by 15 percent.
We can't shake the opinion of dissenting Justice Paul Kelly, who in the original 2-1 ruling called the EPA's rejection of Oklahoma's plan “arbitrary and capricious.” There was no evidence, Kelly wrote, that the investment needed to comply with the federal rules “will have any effect whatsoever on air quality. It surely will, however, result in adverse changes to what Oklahoma ratepayers pay for electricity.”