Sierra Club calls out Oklahoma utility on coal plant emissions

A report released June 27 by the Sierra Club claims that Oklahoma Gas and Electric’s (OG&E) Muskogee and Sooner coal-fired plants are producing enough SO2 pollution to violate state and federal health standards and threaten the health of people living nearby.

In addition to the report, the Sierra Club released maps showing where the SO2 output from the two plants travels, highlighting schools, hospitals, parks, and playgrounds sitting under the “plumes” of SO2.

“Even five minutes of exposure to high sulfur dioxide levels can be harmful, and can result in injury that can be compared to a sunburn on your lungs” said Whitney Pearson, organizer with Sierra Club. “It’s now clear that OG&E’s Muskogee and Sooner coal plants are violating air standards that protect our health. We have abundant, affordable wind energy resources in Oklahoma, yet OG&E is stuck on polluting plants that fueled by dirty out-of-state coal. It’s well past time for OG&E to clean up its coal-fired power plants.”

For the first time the Sierra Club is including an analysis showing how the plants are allegedly violating established SO2 safeguards in the Oklahoma State Implementation Plan (SIP). These alleged violations are in addition to the violations that are occurring for the national air quality standard established by EPA, the club said. The air quality modeling in the report and plume maps was conducted using the same modeling techniques used by industry and state environmental agencies.

Unless the violations are addressed, OG&E’s Muskogee and Sooner plants could bring multiple areas of Oklahoma into “non-attainment” status, the club said.

The Sierra Club is asking the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. EPA to begin an investigation to enforce the SO2 standards in the Oklahoma SIP and to immediately begin the process of revising the operating permits for the plants, so that stricter limits are put in place that reduce pollution and comply with state and federal public health standards.

OG&E is a unit of OGE Energy Corp. (NYSE: OGE). An OG&E spokesman said in a June 27 e-mail statement in response to the Sierra Club’s claims: “First and foremost, our plants are in full compliance with current state and federal regulations. The state monitors air quality around our plants continuously and none of the actual monitoring data exceeds the national ambient air quality standards. Actual monitoring data presents a much better picture of what is happening than does modeling because models tend to exaggerate the expected outcomes. Rest assured that as rules and regulations change, our facilities will be in full compliance.”

Dry scrubbers for Muskogee and Sooner units are a point of contention

OGE Energy’s May 2 Form 10-Q quarterly financial report said about state’s 2010 regional haze SIP proposal: “The Oklahoma SIP included requirements for reducing emissions of NOX and SO2 from OG&E’s seven BART-eligible units at the Seminole, Muskogee and Sooner generating stations. The SIP also included a waiver from BART requirements for all eligible units at the Horseshoe Lake generating station based on air modeling that showed no significant impact on visibility in nearby national parks and wilderness areas. The SIP concluded that BART for reducing NOX emissions at all of the subject units should be the installation of low NOX burners with overfire air (flue gas recirculation was also required on two of the units) and set forth associated NOX emission rates and limits. OG&E preliminarily estimates that the total capital cost of installing and operating these NOX controls on all covered units, based on recent industry experience and past projects, will be approximately $95 million.”

The Form 10-Q added: “With respect to SO2 emissions, the SIP included an agreement between the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and OG&E that established BART for SO2 control at the four affected coal-fired units located at OG&E’s Sooner and Muskogee generating stations as the continued use of low sulfur coal (along with associated emission rates and limits). The SIP specifically rejected the installation and operation of Dry Scrubbers as BART for SO2 control from these units because the state determined that Dry Scrubbers were not cost effective on these units.”


In December 2011, the EPA issued a final rule in which it rejected portions of the Oklahoma SIP and issued a Federal Implemenation Plan (FIP) in their place. While the EPA accepted Oklahoma’s BART determination for NOX in the final rule, it rejected Oklahoma’s SO2 BART determination with respect to the four coal-fired units at Sooner and Muskogee. The EPA is instead requiring that OG&E meet an SO2 emission rate of 0.06 pounds per MMBtu within five years.

OG&E said it could meet the proposed standard by either installing and operating Dry Scrubbers or fuel switching at the four affected units. OG&E estimates that installing Dry Scrubbers would include capital costs to OG&E of more than $1bn. OG&E and the state of Oklahoma filed an administrative stay request with the EPA in February 2012. OG&E and other parties also filed a petition for review of the FIP in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in February 2012 and a stay request in April 2012. In June 2012, the court granted the stay request. The stay will remain in place until a decision on the petition for review is complete, which will delay the implementation of the regional haze rule in Oklahoma. The merits of the appeal have been fully briefed and oral argument occurred on March 6.


About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.