The Environmental Protection Agency will ask states to get industry input on new plans to curb greenhouse gases at power plants, part of several environmental proposals released Tuesday by the Obama administration.
In Oklahoma, the state's two largest electric utilities are taking different paths toward the future of their power plants. Tulsa-based Public Service Co. of Oklahoma has taken several regulatory steps toward phasing out its last two coal-generating units in the state by 2026. Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. wants to use energy efficiency programs to delay building a new fossil-fueled plant until at least 2020.
President Barack Obama's latest environmental plan includes several proposals that don't require approval from a divided Congress. Instead, Obama will use the EPA and other federal agencies to implement new administrative rules.
“So today, for the sake of our children and the health and safety of all Americans, I'm directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants,” Obama said in remarks at Georgetown University in Washington.
Obama said the EPA will work with states and utilities to craft the new rules.
“In fact, many power companies have already begun modernizing their plants and creating new jobs in the process,” Obama said. “Others have shifted to burning cleaner natural gas instead of dirtier fuel sources.”
Power plants release 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. The transportation sector was responsible for about 34 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in 2011. Oklahoma ranked 11th in the nation in the amount of carbon dioxide released per capita in 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Oklahoma's deputy energy secretary, Jay Albert, said Obama's speech was short on specifics. He said the Oklahoma First Energy Plan, released in 2011, will meet many of the same goals of increased energy efficiency, greater reliance on natural gas and job creation. Albert said the state's plan does it without ideological battles over carbon emissions and climate policy.
“We want to leverage Oklahoma's resource base,” Albert said.
Last year, the EPA proposed rules for carbon emissions at new power plants, but the effort stalled during an election year as critics said the rules could burden electric consumers. Those concerns were echoed Tuesday by some utilities and elected officials, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a longtime skeptic of human-caused climate change.
“Instead of forcing these costly rules on a recovering economy, we should be embracing all sources of affordable energy and pursuing technologies that allow us to use our abundant resources efficiently, cleanly and cheaply,” Inhofe said in a statement.
OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said the utility's generating fleet includes coal, natural gas and a growing wind portfolio that provides more than 10 percent of its generating capacity. He said OG&E will continue to value fuel diversity and protect customer bills.
“As far as regulatory frameworks, we are in favor of practically achievable targets and setting timelines that can be reasonably achieved without putting undue burden on our customers, while still having meaningful environmental benefits,” Alford said.
Whitney Pearson, with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, said plans to control carbon emissions were another reason OG&E should move away from coal. OG&E uses low-sulfur coal from Wyoming.
“They're purchasing fuel from out of state when they should be focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Pearson said. “It's not in the state's best interest to import dirty, out-of-state coal.”
Stan Whiteford, PSO's spokesman, said the utility's environmental compliance plan to phase out coal anticipated new regulations or limits on carbon emissions. PSO wants to retire one coal unit at its Northeastern Station plant near Oologah by 2016. It plans to install emissions-control equipment on another coal unit there before retiring it by 2026.
Critics of PSO's plan, including the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers group, said phasing out its coal units would be too costly for PSO's customers and make the utility too reliant on natural gas. PSO said customer rates could rise at least 11 percent beginning in 2016.
Meanwhile, PSO's parent company, Ohio-based American Electric Power, said Obama's plan for curtailing carbon emissions at power plants appeared to take a balanced approach. Utility officials want to see more details and want the rules to be flexible. AEP is one of the nation's largest utilities and a big customer of coal.
CONTRIBUTING: Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau