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EPA plan to clean air could cost Oklahoma residents

Oklahoma's two largest utility companies could be forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on technology to clean up the emissions coming from aging coal-fired power plants under a plan proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: March 8, 2011

Oklahoma officials and the state's two largest utility companies are looking for answers after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday rejected the state's plan to reduce emissions that affect visibility at federal wildlife areas.

The result could be a hefty increase in electric rates if utilities are forced to install expensive scrubbers to their oldest power plants. An industrial consumers group in November estimated Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers could see their rates rise more than 15 percent.

The EPA on Monday proposed its own plan to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by about 95 percent over the next three years at three coal-fired power plants in Oklahoma. The plants have helped power the state since the late 1970s.

“The steps we are taking to address the sulfur pollution from the oldest coal power plants will improve air quality for generations to come,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said. “Everyone must continue to take efforts to reduce pollution, use cleaner sources of energy, and preserve our national wildlife areas.”

The decision was greeted with disappointment by state officials, who had proposed a plan giving utility companies the flexibility to avoid installing costly air scrubbers at their coal plants.

“We believed that the State Implementation Plan provided the best opportunity to meet the long-term goal of the regional haze provisions of the Clean Air Act while mitigating its impacts on economic growth,” Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “We are disappointed that it has been rejected.

There will be a 60-day public comment period after the EPA plan is published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold a public hearing on the plan April 13 in Oklahoma City.

The EPA plan is aimed at reducing emissions at two OG&E plants and one operated by Tulsa's Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. Those plants account for more than a third of the state's sulfur dioxide pollution from industrial and utility sources, according to the agency.

The environmental agency's plan also allows those companies to switch to natural gas for power generation, but not as gradually as the state had proposed.

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