Oklahoma attorney general disputes EPA power plant emissions order
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
Thursday, March 07, 2013
3/07/13 at 7:48 AM
DENVER - An appeals court heard conflicting claims Wednesday on whether the federal government illegally imposed a plan for controlling the amount of pollutants emitted by two Oklahoma power plants.
The case pits Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Gas & Electric and industries that are big users of electricity against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental group Sierra Club.
The coal-burning plants, near Pawnee and Muskogee, emit large amounts of hazardous pollutants that cause haze and damage air quality in a multistate region.
The emissions are subject to EPA regulations for haze and other types of pollution under the federal Clean Air Act.
Judges of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals peppered Pruitt and attorneys for the other litigants with questions about their positions during arguments at the Denver-based court.
The EPA in 2011 rejected a state plan to control sulfur dioxide emissions from burned coal at those two plants operated by OG&E.
Rather than joining OG&E in battling the EPA requirement, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma plans within 15 years to convert its Oologah plant to burn natural gas instead of coal to produce electricity.
Pruitt, OG&E and the big industries allege the EPA usurped state authority by imposing an alternate plan. That plan would cost the utility, and ultimately its customers, much more than the state plan.
The EPA contends it had a duty to impose its plan because the state plan allegedly did not meet federal standards to adequately control emissions.
In addition to whether EPA legally imposed its own plan, a key dispute is over whether the state plan or the federal plan is more cost-effective, a factor legally required to be considered.
OG&E, the state's largest electricity provider, claims the cost of meeting the EPA's level of reduction would be more than $1.2 billion, for installing four "scrubbers" by 2017. EPA claims the figure is exaggerated.
The utility, Pruitt and the industrial users argued that state regulators were correct in determining scrubbers were not cost-effective for the potential visibility benefits, and that EPA understated cost estimates.
EPA argued the state "stacked the deck" in favor of finding scrubbers were not cost effective. EPA alleges state regulators relied on inflated cost figures, and underestimated emission reduction and visibility improvement in determining cost-effectiveness.
The judges typically issue decisions several months after hearing arguments.
Although state attorneys general typically have their assistants argue cases, Pruitt personally presented the arguments for his office because the case "goes to the heart of the state's authority."
The case is the first he has argued at the court, which is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.
He said Congress intended for the states, rather than the EPA, "to have primary authority" to decide which plan OG&E will have to abide by. He agreed, however, that state plans are subject to EPA regulations.
Pruitt contends EPA was arbitrary and capricious in not accepting the state's basis for its plan, a contention EPA disputes.
Stephanie Talbert, a Justice Department attorney representing the EPA, told the judges the state can submit another plan, a procedure the EPA prefers, but it hasn't.
The 2011 state plan requires OG&E to continue using low-sulfur coal at the plants. The Sierra Club supports a phase-out of coal at power plants to reduce health risks.
Original Print Headline: AG argues case against EPA
Scott Pruitt: He told the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that an EPA order on power plant emissions will cost state utilities $1.2 billion