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Oklahoma in familiar fight on environmental policy

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 2, 2014 at 4:55 pm •  Published: June 2, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — With a healthy and enviable array of power sources, Oklahoma could meet or even beat targets set out Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, environmental groups say. But it appears the state — no stranger to taking on the federal government over energy policy — might dig its heels in.

The plan unveiled by President Barack Obama's administration suggests a 35 percent reduction of carbon emissions in Oklahoma by 2030. Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the EPA in the past over a different issue, said the agency is being used to "pick winners and losers."

"While the EPA says the new greenhouse gas emissions rule for existing power plants gives states flexibility, this claim is little more than lip service," Pruitt said in a statement. "Through its top-down approach, the EPA is taking away the ability of the states to design and implement plans suitable to each state's unique circumstances."

Pruitt had unveiled his own plan last month, which would leave power in the hands of the states to set power plant emissions standards.

Oklahoma has had a combative past in dealing with federal energy issues. Pruitt's office sued the EPA in 2011 after the agency rejected the state's plan to reduce regional haze at national parks and wilderness areas, including the 59,000-acre Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma.

The lawsuit alleged that the EPA overstepped its authority in taking the action. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Unlike some other states that rely overwhelmingly on coal, Oklahoma derived more than half its energy from natural gas and just about 38 percent from coal in 2012, according to EPA estimates. It also marked tremendous growth in wind energy in recent years, which provided nearly 15 percent of the state's electricity in 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club hailed the plan, saying Oklahoma is positioned to be a national leader in cutting carbon pollution by tapping its vast energy resources.

"The new safeguards not only protect our health and communities, but they will also spur innovation and strengthen our economy," said Whitney Pearson, with Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma. "Cutting pollution that harms our communities will also save billions of dollars in health costs, disaster cleanup, and disaster recovery costs."

Some utility companies in the state have already implemented strategies to phase out dated plants and technology, too. Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, which serves 540,000 customers in the state, has plans on the books to phase out and eventually close two coal-fired plants in the town of Oologah — one in 2016; the other in 2026, said company spokesman Stan Whiteford.


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