EPA Requiring Three Oklahoma Coal Plants to Scrub or Use Gas

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 7 announced a proposed federal implementation plan (FIP) to improve visibility in the Oklahoma region by reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, which combines with other chemicals in the air to form particles that can produce regional haze.

The proposed federal plan would target two coal-fired plants owned by Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) and one plant owned by Public Service Co. of Oklahoma (PSO), a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co. All three of the units are about 30 years old and burn low-sulfur coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

The Clean Air Act requires states to reduce emissions that contribute to regional haze and to demonstrate "reasonable progress" toward a national goal of achieving natural visibility conditions in so-called "Class 1" areas such as natural parks and wilderness areas.

While EPA proposed to approve portions of Oklahoma’s revisions to its state implementation plan aimed at meeting certain requirements of the broader regional haze program, the agency also proposed to disapprove portions addressing requirements for "best available retrofit technology" and the agency’s long-term strategy for improving visibility in Class 1 areas.

The agency also is proposing to disapprove portions of Oklahoma’s SIP revisions that apply to visibility for the 1997 national ambient air quality standard for ozone and fine particles.

The proposed FIP, EPA said, would address these deficiencies to allow the state to meet the air statute’s visibility requirements as well as improving health by reducing pollution.

"The steps we are taking to reduce sulfur pollution from the oldest power plants will improve air quality for generations to come," EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz said March 7. "Everyone must continue to take efforts to reduce pollution, use cleaner sources of energy and preserve our national wildlife areas."

The proposal has stunned officials at the two affected utilities, who say the tight three-year deadline would lead to dramatic cost increases for their customers as the utilities scrambled either to install scrubbers or repower the plants to burn natural gas.

"We’re very disappointed and disagree with today’s announcement," OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said March 7. "The Oklahoma plan put forward a more cost-effective option that closely followed the EPA’s own rules. And while a conversion to natural gas is an option that both OG&E and the state proposed, we feel it should take place over a much longer time period. We’d like the ability to evaluate other upcoming rules and alternatives that will provide the best solution to address the environmental issues and consider the magnitude of cost increases to customers’ bills."

PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford sounded similar concerns about the compliance schedule EPA proposed, noting that the two affected coal units at PSO’s Northeastern plant have a combined capacity of 940 megawatts and comprise the utility’s biggest baseload plant.

"We think that the three-year time frame is unreasonably short," Whiteford said Friday. "We worked very closely with the [Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality] and felt very strongly that it was a plan that could receive the same results at much lower cost."

The move also angered Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a frequent EPA antagonist who has blasted the agency’s greenhouse gas regulations as a plot to undermine coal-fired electricity generation.

"State officials in Oklahoma did the right thing: they worked with state utilities to devise a plan that will continue progress in cleaning the air while ensuring affordable, reliable electricity for consumers," Inhofe said March 7. "But that was too much for the Obama EPA, which rejected the Oklahoma-led plan in favor of their preferred scheme to put Washington bureaucrats in charge and, ultimately, to make fossil-fuel-based electricity more expensive for consumers."

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has scheduled a March 23rd hearing to review EPA’s proposal, and EPA has set a public hearing on the matter on April 13. The agency also will provide a 60-day public comment period on the federal plan from the date of its publication in the Federal Register, expected soon.

—Chris Holly is a reporter for The Energy Daily, where this article first appeared.

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