The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to cut emissions that impact visibility in national parks will cost Oklahoma about $282 million a year, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The report contends efforts to combat regional haze in Oklahoma and other states will not be measurably improved by the EPA's decision to impose its own emissions reduction plans.
“Despite all the publicity for other regulations, one of EPA's more dubious, and arguably illegal regulatory efforts remains below the radar to many: the regional haze rule,” study author William Yeatman said. “EPA is now implementing a program that tramples over states' authority. In the long term, EPA's abuse of its regional haze authority could present a persistent problem for all states.
“With the EPA poised to impose similar constraints on several other states in the immediate future, it's clear that no state is immune from having its rightful regional haze authority trumped by EPA at profound costs for virtually nonexistent benefits.”
Yeatman's study contends the federal Clean Air Act directs states to weigh costs against visibility benefits in deciding how to address regional haze.
“Accordingly, Oklahoma declined to impose the most expensive sulfur dioxide controls on six power plants subject to regional haze requirements, because the capital costs — almost $1.8 billion — were deemed unreasonable in light of the imperceptible benefits,” the report states.
The report includes two seemingly identical photographs of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: one with the state's emissions controls and one with the EPA's controls.
Environmental groups dismissed the chamber's study, while applauding the EPA's efforts to protect national parks.
“For decades, EPA has ignored pressing needs to address air pollution in our national parks,” said Abigail Dillen, an attorney for Earthjustice. “Now is not the time to slow down overdue cleanups of coal-fired power plants and factories that blight the landscape and harm park visitors' health.”
Oklahoma has balked at accepting the EPA plan, which was unveiled last year when the agency rejected the state's proposal to limit emissions from several aging coal plants.
The state and the two utility companies affected by the ruling, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to review the decision, leading the court to issue a stay last month. PSO withdrew its objection in April when it announced plans to phase out its last two Oklahoma coal plants.
The regional haze issue is on hold until judges have a chance to review arguments from both sides.
“We continue to believe that the state of Oklahoma put forward a meaningful, appropriate plan to address regional haze; one that is much less costly for OG&E customers, and we look forward to making that case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals later this year,” OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt recently testified before a congressional subcommittee about the EPA's efforts to circumvent the rule-making process on regional haze and other environmental regulations.
“This is a continuing tactic that we are aware of and are in the process of pursuing,” spokeswoman Diane Clay said Friday.
The chamber accuses the EPA of using a regulatory tool known as “sue and settle rule-making” to force states to accept the agency's plans, which are costlier to implement and increase utility costs for consumers.
Whitney Pearson, associate field organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said the chamber has its facts wrong on regional haze and Oklahoma.
“If they took the time to look at what is actually going on here in Oklahoma — we have reached a common-sense solution between AEP-PSO, the governor, EPA and the Sierra Club about how to move the state forward, clean up our air, and secure large investments in clean energy like Oklahoma's abundant wind resources,” she said.