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OG&E, Oklahoma deliver arguments in air quality case

Oklahoma challenges federal government's plan to control haze by focusing on pollutants emitted by power plants.
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ Published: March 7, 2013

An appeals court heard conflicting claims Wednesday on whether the federal government illegally imposed a plan for controlling the amount of pollutants emitted by two Oklahoma power plants.

The case pits Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Gas & Electric and industries that are big users of electricity against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental group Sierra Club.

The coal-burning plants near Pawnee and Muskogee emit large amounts of pollutants that cause haze and damage air quality in a multistate region. The emissions are subject to EPA regulations for haze and other types of pollution under the federal Clean Air Act.

Judges of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals peppered Pruitt and attorneys for the other litigants with questions about their positions during arguments at the Denver-based court.

The EPA in 2011 rejected a state plan to control sulfur dioxide emissions from burned coal at those two plants operated by OG&E, the state's largest utility.

Rather than joining OG&E in battling the EPA requirement, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, plans within 15 years to convert its Oologah plant to burn natural gas instead of coal to produce electricity.

About the dispute

Pruitt, OG&E and the big industries claim the EPA usurped state authority by imposing an alternate plan. That plan would cost the utility, and ultimately its customers, much more than the state plan.

The EPA contends it had a duty to impose its plan because the state plan did not meet federal standards to adequately control emissions.

In addition to whether EPA legally imposed its own plan, a key dispute is over whether the state plan or the federal plan is more cost-effective, a factor legally required to be considered.

OG&E claims the cost of meeting the EPA's level of reduction would be more than $1.2 billion, for installing four “scrubbers” by 2017. EPA claims the figure is grossly exaggerated.

EPA argued the state “stacked the deck” in favor of finding scrubbers were not cost effective. EPA contends that state regulators relied on inflated cost figures, and underestimated emission reduction and visibility improvement in determining cost-effectiveness.

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