Neither Weiners nor whiners here -- AFP-OK and A.G. Pruitt rebuff EPA’s shaft job
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Published: 29-Jul-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite an adverse circuit court ruling rebuffing the state of Oklahoma’s legal challenge to an Environmental Protection Agency (APA) edict, a citizen activist group is continuing to fight the controversial regional haze standard that could require Oklahoma power plants to switch fuels to offset sulfur dioxide emissions.

Federal pressure on power generation in Oklahoma could have real-world implications, including a minimum 11-12 percent rate hike for residential consumers. While several state officials have opposed the EPA maneuvers, some state officials have recently been quiet, and a key state utility firm has agreed to changes that will hike utility rates.

EPA critics have assailed underlying authority for the regulatory provision, which is based on a 1977 amendment to the federal Clean Air Act. They decry it as “an aesthetic visibility standard” designed to reduce haze on government lands, with little gain for air quality.

Further, Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma, says the projected double-digit rate hikes, if the EPA gets its way, will actually be closer to 20 percent – an average of $200 in increased costs for the typical state family. 

Matt Ball, state director for AFP-OK, said, “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 [Public Service Company of Oklahoma] customers up to $200 more per year and pave the way for rates to be raised on all Oklahomans?”

Ball continued, “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.”

Last weekend, Ball told CapitolBeatOK the petition already had triggered 3,078 Oklahomans to contact state officials via the petition letters.

Ball said, “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. AFP-OK is circulating this petition so that state policymakers are made aware of how Oklahomans feel about this important pocketbook issue.”

In the first of a series of emails to AFP supporters and other free market advocates in the state, Ball assailed the EPA benchmark as operating “under the guise of pseudo-science.” 

Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello told CapitolBeatOK, “Should this EPA mandated policy be implemented in our state, I have serious concerns about the negative impact on Oklahoma's wage earners.” He asserted, “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 other critics of the haze mandate say it could erode two of Oklahoma’s key economic advantages – comparatively robust employment (a 5 percent jobless rate, among the nation’s lowest) and low cost of doing business, not to mention wage improvements over several years

The Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers (OIEC) and the state Energy Coalition have faced off with state members of the Sierra Club, who back the haze rule

Frustrating advocates of energy independence, the EPA applied the regional haze standard to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, in southwestern Oklahoma. EPA has pressured for fuel switching (from “clean coal” to natural gas) at power plants more than 250 miles away, in the far northeast corner of the Sooner State.

The situation has provoked unusual division among utility firms. While Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) is willing to settle 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. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt assailed the Tenth Circuit decision, 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 Oklahoma consumers from excessive and unnecessary utility costs. We are reviewing the decision and considering our options.”

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said he was “frustrated” with the circuit court ruling, which he characterizes as “needless and excessive.” Unless the ruling is tempered upon further review, “It is now certain that Oklahoma utility customers will face a new rate hike without any health or economic benefit.”

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 the regional haze controversy 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 the “sue-and-settle” strategy. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok

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