Oklahoma electric generation plants will have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions 35 percent by 2030 under proposed federal rules released Monday.
Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to cut carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030 under its proposed rules for existing fossil-fired electric plants. States have different goals based on their fuel mix from 2012.
The EPA said states would have flexibility to meet those targets, including phasing out coal plants, making them more efficient or switching from coal to natural gas. States could also implement programs to cut electricity demand or use more renewable energy.
“The glue that holds this plan together, and the key to making it work, is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech introducing the proposed rules.
Electric generation makes up about one-third of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions, with other large shares coming from the transportation and industrial sectors.
Critics said utility customers could end up paying higher bills from the compliance costs of the carbon rule. The EPA said bills could be lower from reduced demand for electricity. Lower healthcare costs from fewer patients seeking medical care for breathing-related illnesses could be another benefit, the agency said.
Oklahoma power plants emitted almost 48 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, putting the state in 14th place. The state had an emissions rate of 1,387 pounds per megawatt hour in 2012, but the EPA suggested cutting it to 895 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030.
Michael Teague, Oklahoma’s secretary of energy and environment, said his office was still evaluating the 645-page proposed rule. But his initial impressions left him hopeful about the role of the states in cutting carbon emissions.
“The devil’s in the details always, and there’s a ton of stuff to go through, but at first blush, I think the state is positioned pretty well,” Teague said.
Teague said increased demand for natural gas is a big part of Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma First Energy Plan. Wind also is getting more affordable, with Public Service Co. recently signing wind contracts that are competitive with the price of coal.
“There’s really good business decisions being made by the utilities that involve Oklahoma’s resources, be it wind, gas, our people and our jobs,” Teague said. “When you take an honest, all-of-the-above approach, you’re postured pretty well. I see the utilities have set themselves up well for however this thing turns out.”
In 2012, Oklahoma got half of its electricity from natural gas, with coal making up 38 percent and wind at 10 percent. The remainder came from hydroelectric sources, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Vicki Rose, a lifelong Oklahoman and Sierra Club member who owns the Rose Ranch in Jones, said she’s noticed higher incidents of extreme weather in the last decade, one of the factors linked to climate change and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Since she started her 48-acre organic ranch and farm in 2007, Rose said she has suffered through ice storms, blizzards, wildfires and extreme drought.
“I’m thankful they’re taking action to reduce carbon pollution,” said Rose, who sold off two-thirds of her cattle in 2011 because of drought and hay shortages. “These power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide. It’s a move that’s long overdue.”
Oklahoma’s two largest electric utilities were cautiously optimistic about the proposed rules. PSO already plans to phase out its last two coal units in Oklahoma at its Northeastern Station plant near Oologah by 2026.
PSO’s compliance plan, which includes increased use of natural gas and wind, is expected to cost $350 million and raise rates on customers by 11 percent starting in 2016.
“By 2030, both of our coal units will have been phased out and there will be no emissions from them,” said PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford. “We are hopeful that will address our needs.”
Kathleen O’Shea, spokeswoman at Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., said the utility was glad to see flexible compliance options, including energy efficiency programs. OG&E has signed up about 10 percent of its customers in its SmartHours program, which reduces residential demand at peak summer times.
OG&E plans to submit a compliance plan to Oklahoma regulators by August on another set of EPA regulations on regional haze. That plan could include some of the options also needed to address the proposed cuts in carbon emissions.
The response to the EPA’s plans from some Oklahoma politicians was harsh. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a frequent critic of climate-change science, said the proposed rules will cause the country to decrease its use of cheap, domestic energy sources and effectively institute a cap-and-trade program that Congress has rejected. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the agency was picking winners and losers in the energy market and paying “lip service” to state flexibility.
“If the EPA is serious about providing states flexibility, the agency should use an ‘inside the fence’ approach that allows each state to set emissions standards for existing power plants by evaluating each unit’s ability to improve efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a cost-effective way,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Instead, the EPA is setting an arbitrary goal and a list of suitable policies that can help them achieve those goals.”
The proposed rules mark the beginning of a comment period of 120 days, with the rule to be finalized in June 2015. State plans for the carbon dioxide reductions are due in June 2016, although the EPA said it will allow one- and two-year extensions if states can show progress.
Teague said the rules are almost certain to draw legal challenges.
“People have been positioning themselves on both sides of the argument for future challenges,” Teague said. “We’ll let the courts figure out where that all settles. The proposed rule will give us two years from now to put together our plan.”
Powering greenhouse gas cuts
Four things to know about the Obama administration’s plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the chief greenhouse gas, from power plants.
•HOW MUCH POLLUTION WILL IT CUT?
The proposal announced Monday calls for the nation’s fossil-fuel fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. But Environmental Protection Agency data shows that the nation’s power plants already have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal. The EPA also says the regulation will also reduce other pollutants that create lung-damaging smog and soot by more than 25 percent by 2030.
•HOW DOES THIS COMPARE WITH OTHER ACTIONS ON GLOBAL WARMING TAKEN BY THIS ADMINISTRATION?
Obama’s fuel economy efforts cut a bigger chunk of the U.S.’ greenhouse gas emissions. Obama tackled the emissions from the nation’s cars and trucks, announcing rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by doubling fuel economy. That standard will reduce carbon dioxide by 6 billion tons. The power plant proposal will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5 billion tons from 2020-2030.
•WHY POWER PLANTS?
Power plants are the largest source of the gases blamed for global warming, accounting for 38 percent of all greenhouse gases in the U.S, but there are no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. About three-quarters of the power plant emissions are from coal-fired plants. The average age today of the coal-fired generating fleet is 42 years, and 11 percent of units are more than 60 years old.
•WILL IT MAKE A DENT IN GLOBAL WARMING?
A small one. That’s because U.S. fossil-fueled power plants only account for about 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. However, the administration is hoping this move shows other countries the U.S. is serious about the problem when it begins negotiations this fall toward a new, binding international treaty.