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Federal appeals court overturns EPA emissions regulations affecting Oklahoma

by Paul Monies Published: August 21, 2012

A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down Environmental Protection Agency rules regulating power plant air pollution that crosses state lines in a case that affected Oklahoma and 27 other states.

Under the rules, Oklahoma utilities with coal plants were required to limit emissions of nitrogen oxides during summer months. The state fell under a section of the cross-state air pollution rules to help stop the formation of ozone, which can cause breathing difficulties.

Several utilities, including Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., Public Service Co. of Oklahoma and Western Farmers Electric Coop, fought the rules. They were joined by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

The EPA said the rules would have environmental and health benefits. Its estimates said the rules could have prevented between 13,000 and 34,000 early deaths and up to 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year.

In a 2-1 decision Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia directed the EPA to implement earlier regulations called the clean air interstate rules until it can revise the new rules. The court's majority said the EPA exceeded its regulatory authority in implementing the new rules and didn't give states a chance to weigh in on new emissions limits.

Pruitt and the utilities said the rules on cross-state air pollution could have forced them to install expensive pollution-control equipment.

“This regulation is yet another example of the current EPA administration's activist approach to environmental policy and burdensome overregulation that accomplishes nothing more than harming ratepayers and businesses for the sake of more rule making,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Thankfully, the court agreed with our position and validated our efforts.”

The EPA said it would review the court's decision.

“As the court stated in its opinion, the 2005 rule addressing this issue remains in place, and states and affected sources are expected to follow the law,” the agency said in a statement. “EPA remains committed to working with states and the power sector to address pollution-transport issues as required by the Clean Air Act.”

Oklahoma was not included under the 2005 clean air interstate rules.

Groups, companies react

Environmental groups called the court's decision disappointing. The Sierra Club said it would urge the EPA to appeal the ruling.

Jenna Garland, regional spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, said the cross-state air pollution rules were based on standards for national air quality established in 1997. They covered sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions that travel across state lines. Emissions from Texas coal plants affect Oklahoma, and emissions from Oklahoma coal plants were shown to have reached Michigan.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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