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Oklahoma's largest electric utilities take different paths on future of coal

President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday that he wants the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with rules to regulate carbon emissions from power plants will affect Oklahoma's two largest electric utilities in different ways.
by Paul Monies Modified: June 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: June 25, 2013

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.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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