Sierra Club's critique of power plans designed to foster fear

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: July 26, 2013

THE Sierra Club, ever the unyielding opponent of modern life, has released a new report on coal-fired plants. Surprise, surprise: The report views power plants as a threat to humanity!

The report reviewed water permits for 386 coal plants and claims that 274 of them, including six in Oklahoma, discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways. The Sierra Club ominously warns that there are no limits “on the amounts of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury and selenium” that power plants “are allowed to dump into public waters.”

Whitney Pearson, who heads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, says “dumping poisons into our water without rigorous monitoring and reporting threatens the health, drinking water and recreation opportunities in Oklahoma.” Her comment suggests there's no problem with dumping poisons into water so long as the government monitors it and companies report the practice, but never mind.

The report is clearly designed to foster fear. After all, who wants to drink arsenic? But local power producers' rebuttals make clear the Sierra Club is engaged in rank propaganda, not serious, data-driven analysis.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford noted the company's wastewater permits are renewed every five years by both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Two OG&E plants have been checked in the past two years. Regulators' inspections found the metals listed in the Sierra Club report were “below detection.” In addition, Alford said OG&E doesn't dispose of coal ash on site at either power plant.

The Sierra Club stressed that three of Oklahoma's six coal plants are operating with expired Clean Water Act permits. But a Western Farmers Electric Cooperative official noted those plants are still in compliance with federal law. The existing permit remains in force until a new permit is issued if an application is made at least six months prior to expiration.

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