THE state of Oklahoma has lost — for now — its effort to get the Environmental Protection Agency to allow for a state plan to address emissions from coal-burning power plants. Our hope is that Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues this important and winnable fight.
Last week, in a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the EPA had the authority to reject the state's pollution-control plan and instead could impose a more stringent and far more costly plan. This case stemmed from an EPA determination in 2010 that visibility at wildlife refuges in the state indicated the presence of pollution tied to coal-fired power plants. The EPA labeled it “regional haze.”
The state came up with a plan to reduce emissions. The EPA said that plan wasn't up to snuff. This in turn prompted the legal challenge by Pruitt and Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., the utility whose coal-burning power plants near Pawnee and Muskogee are in the EPA's sights.
OG&E faces the prospect of having to install expensive scrubber equipment at those plants — which means customers face the prospect of much higher electric bills. How much higher? One analysis has placed the projected increase in electricity rates for OG&E at 15 percent.
That's just fine with the Sierra Club, one of several groups allowed to intervene in this case. The goal of the Sierra Club is to end all coal-generated electricity in this country (then it will move on to natural gas; if it's a fossil fuel, it must go!). If customers must pay sharply higher electricity rates in order to make that happen, then so be it.
However, if OG&E is forced to spend $1 billion-plus to install scrubbers that satisfy the EPA, wouldn't the utility be in less of a hurry to replace its coal-fired plants with new gas plants?
This case has been an example of government overreach from the start. The Obama administration's EPA, which like the Sierra Club wants an end to fossil fuel-produced electricity, determined that the air at our wildlife refuges was being tainted by emissions produced hundreds of miles away. It provided states the opportunity to come up with a plan to deal with this haze, then deep-sixed the state's proposal.