By Tim Talley
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — An attempt by Oklahoma’s largest utility to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce emissions at two coal-fired electrical generating plants was rejected Friday by a federal appeals court.
A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reject the challenge to EPA’s regional haze rule mounted by Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. The court’s majority opinion states the EPA has the authority to implement its own plan to limit sulfur dioxide emissions.
OG&E alleged the EPA rule is more stringent than the state’s proposed implementation plan and that implementing it would usurp state authority.
OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said complying with the EPA rule will require the utility to spend $1.2 billion installing scrubbers and other equipment over the next five years at coal plants at Fort Gibson and Red Rock.
“This is a disappointing decision for OG&E customers,” Alford said. “This has never been about avoiding compliance. It’s about how we comply and ensuring that we keep our customers’ best interest at the forefront.”
Alford said the company has 45 days to request a rehearing by the Denver-based appellate court. He said the company, which serves more than 750,000 electrical customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas, may ask all 10 active judges on the court to reconsider the case.
The court’s decision was praised by the director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter, David Ocamb.
“OG&E sends hundreds of millions of dollars out of state each year to import coal and the pollution that comes with it,” Ocamb said in a statement. “It’s time for OG&E to do what’s right and phase out their coal plants.”
Last year, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, or PSO, agreed to retire two coal-fired power plants over the next 14 years under an agreement with EPA to help the state meet federal air quality rules.
Officials at PSO, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, said the decision would prevent the need to install “several hundred million dollars” worth of anti-pollution equipment on generating facilities that are more than 30 years old, dramatically reducing costs PSO would seek to recover from ratepayers.
In June 2012, the appeals court blocked enforcement of the EPA rule regarding OG&E’s coal-fired plants pending its review of the case. The court’s decision lifts its stay order.
The haze rule was developed to help reduce haze and improve visibility at federally managed national parks and wilderness areas, such as the 59,000-acre Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma.
In a five-page dissenting opinion, Judge Paul Kelly Jr. said he believes the EPA’s rejection of the state’s plan for meeting haze guidelines and implementation of its own “was arbitrary and capricious” and that the goals of the agency’s regional haze program “are purely aesthetic rather than directly related to health and safety.”
“There is no evidence this investment will have any effect whatsoever on air quality. It surely will, however, result in adverse changes to what Oklahoma ratepayers will pay for electricity,” Kelly said.