A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on emissions from power plants reaching other states could affect several electric generating plants in Oklahoma for part of the year.
In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Oklahoma is covered by a supplemental part of the rule on nitrogen oxides that can cause ozone in the summer months.
The rule covers upwind emissions from power plants and their downwind effects on other states. Twenty-eight states, mostly in the eastern and central parts of the country, are affected in some way by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
The Supreme Court decision reversed an earlier ruling from an appellate court in the District of Columbia. The ruling sends the case back to the lower court for further action.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it was reviewing the opinion and no immediate action from states or affected plants is expected.
The EPA lists 22 power plants in Oklahoma covered by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. In 2011, five of those plants were responsible for three-fourths of the state’s emissions of nitrogen oxides that could cause ozone.
One county in Michigan is affected by nitrogen oxide emissions from Oklahoma coal plants, according to air modeling by the EPA to support the rule.
For Oklahoma, the rule set up a cap-and-trade system for nitrogen oxide emissions during ozone season from May to September. Representatives at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the EPA could reinstate nitrogen oxide limits from the rule before it was put on hold by a lower court. Or EPA could finish a pending rulemaking establishing new criteria and deadlines.
“In Oklahoma, we’re just waiting to see how the D.C. circuit court rules, and we will get additional guidance from the circuit court,” said Tom Richardson, an engineer with DEQ’s air quality division. “We’re still not sure how EPA will proceed.”
Oklahoma utilities could install additional emissions controls to comply with the rule, or they could trade emissions credits to come under the limits established by the EPA, Richardson said.
The ruling won’t affect Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, which already has an environmental compliance plan with the EPA to phase out its last coal units in Oklahoma by 2026. Stan Whiteford, PSO spokesman, said the utility’s agreement on the EPA’s Regional Haze rule takes care of the emissions addressed in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
“The reduction and retirement as part of our environmental compliance plan will also achieve CSAPR (Cross-State Air Pollution Rule) emissions reductions, so we don’t really anticipate any effects from the ruling,” Whiteford said.
The Grand River Dam Authority’s coal plant in Chouteau isn’t covered by the rule, CEO Dan Sullivan said. The coal units were installed after 1977, which is the cutoff for plants affected, he said.
Brian Hobbs, vice president of legal and corporate services for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, said the cooperative was disappointed with the ruling and is studying its possible effects. Western Farmers’ Hugo coal plant may be affected.
Environmental groups praised the Supreme Court ruling. Whitney Pearson, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal organizer in Oklahoma, said the ruling should be a reminder to utilities that they need to take additional steps to reduce harmful emissions.
“It’s definitely a victory for public health and should help communities affected by downwind pollution,” Pearson said.
Politicians weigh in
Meanwhile, some Oklahoma politicians, from Attorney General Scott Pruitt to U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said they were disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Congress passed environmental laws giving states primacy in this instance and others, but over the years has deferred its authority to federal agencies like the EPA, which have rushed in to fill the vacuum and expand their authority,” Pruitt said. “Until Congress reclaims its oversight and authority, it makes it even more important for states like Oklahoma and my office to continue our efforts to fight the attempts of federal agencies to ignore the law and encroach upon state sovereignty.”
Pruitt’s office, joined by OG&E and a group of industrial consumers, has asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by a Denver-based appeals court on regional haze. The court is expected to say whether it will take up that case in the next few weeks.
CONTRIBUTING: Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau
In Oklahoma, we’re just waiting to see how the DC circuit court rules, and we will get additional guidance from the circuit court. We’re still not sure how EPA will proceed.”
An engineer with DEQ’s air quality division