By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK
OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite a circuit court ruling rebuffing Oklahoma’s legal challenge to an Environmental Protection Agency edict, a citizen activist group continues to fight the U.S. “regional
haze” standard that could require state power plants to switch fuels to offset sulfur dioxide emissions.
Federal pressure on power generation could trigger a minimum 11-12 percent rate hike for residential consumers. While several state officials have opposed the EPA maneuvers, others have recently been quiet, and a key state utility firm has agreed to the changes that will hike utility rates.
Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma, says the projected double-digit rate increases, if the EPA gets its way, will actually be closer to 20 percent –averaging $200 a year for the typical state family.
“At a time when Oklahomans overwhelmingly agree that electricity rates are already too high, why should state policymakers support a settlement agreement with the Obama EPA and other liberal environmental groups like the Sierra Club that will raise rates on PSO customers up to $200 more per year and pave the way for rates to be raised on all Oklahomans?” said Matt Ball, state director for AFP-OK.
“President Obama has made clear his intentions on power plant regulation and this one EPA regulation, by mandating fuel-switching, will effectively mandate how much Oklahomans will pay for electricity,” Ball continued.
Ball told CapitolBeatOK his group’s recent petition to state officials already had triggered 3,078 Oklahomans to oppose the EPA edict
“While the heavy-handed approach of President Obama’s EPA is likely to result in utility rate hikes on Oklahoma families and businesses, what is more troubling is that state policymakers might consider supporting it. This plan hurts Oklahomans’ pocketbooks and makes our state less competitive for jobs,” Ball said.
In the first of a series of emails to free market advocates in the state, Ball contended the EPA operates “under the guise of pseudo-science.”
Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello told CapitolBeatOK, “There is no urgent need for the state of Oklahoma to rush into embracing a policy based solely on EPA demands. This issue needs to be fully ‘vetted’ by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.” That three-member commission is the constitutional state agency that regulates many businesses, including all utility companies.
Costello and others say the mandate could erode two of Oklahoma’s key economic advantages – comparatively robust employment (a 5 percent jobless rate, among the nation’s lowest) and low business costs, not to mention wage improvements over several years.
The Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers (OIEC) and a state Energy Coalition have faced off with state members of the Sierra Club, who back the haze rule.
Frustrating energy advocates, the EPA applied the regional standard to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, in southwestern Oklahoma. EPA has pressured for the switch from coal to natural gas at plants more than 250 miles away, in the far northeast corner of the state.
While Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) is settling with EPA, the Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E) has fought the issue in court.
Last Friday (July 26), a divided Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected Oklahoma’s April 2012 petition to rebuff the EPA’s haze rule, issued in December 2011.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said he was “frustrated” with the circuit court ruling, which he characterizes as “needless and excessive.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt assailed the Tenth Circuit, saying, “We disagree and are disappointed with the panel’s 2-1 decision. We will continue to fight to preserve the ability of Oklahoma stakeholders to create an Oklahoma solution and to protect consumers from excessive and unnecessary utility costs.”
In addition to fighting the circuit ruling, Pruitt is part of a coalition of state attorneys general seeking to understand the EPA’s alleged “sue-and-settle” strategy. A federal lawsuit against EPA, filed in Oklahoma’s western district, seeks disclosure of EPA tactics benefiting environmental groups like Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, Wildearth Guardians and the Sierra Club.
Pruitt characterizes “sue-and-settle” and regional haze rules as part of a “blatant strategy by the EPA to go around the process and bend the rules to create environmental regulations that have failed in Congress.”
In a total of 45 settlements already made public, EPA has paid out nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees to environmental groups, Pruitt and the other state AGs assert. Earlier this year, the states of Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming submitted to EPA a federal open records request focused on “sue-and-settle.”
You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok