Sierra Club takes to the air to put anti-coal pressure on OG&E

While some of them were undoubtedly cooking various meats over charcoal grills, tailgaters at Oklahoma State University on Sept. 14 were told how coal-fired power is ostensibly bad for them.

The Sierra Club said Sept. 14 that it has launched a major new advertising campaign in Stillwater, Okla., calling for Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E) to move beyond coal and power Oklahoma with clean energy. In addition to 60-second ads running lately on sports and talk radio, the Sierra Club flew a giant banner reading “OG&E: Move Beyond Coal” over tailgaters preparing for the Oklahoma State University home football game.

“OG&E hypes its wind power during Cowboy football games, but doesn’t tout its coal-fired power plant located just twenty miles from campus, and the ads don’t tell you how OG&E sent more than three hundred million dollars to Wyoming last year to buy coal,” said Whitney Pearson, with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma. “The Sierra Club is running ads all month to make sure football fans know that for every year OG&E keeps its aging, expensive coal plants running, it’s choosing to invest in Wyoming, not in Oklahoma. More wind power will bring significant economic benefits to Oklahoma – so why is OG&E choosing a dirty, costly and imported power source over clean, cheap, and local wind?”

That reference to Wyoming is to the fact that OG&E gets coal for its power plants from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Thousands of Oklahomans saw the Sierra Club’s billboard on I-35 while driving to the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, and even more football fans tailgating before the Oklahoma State game saw the airplane flyover, the club said.

Said Pearson: “Already two Oklahoma utilities have planned to phase out coal burning plants while OG&E digs its heels in. It’s time for OG&E to clean up its act and replace its coal burning plants with clean, Oklahoma energy solutions.”

The state’s largest utility can invest hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit its Muskogee and Sooner coal-fired plants, or it can choose to phase out the plants and replace them with cleaner sources of energy, like wind energy, solar power and energy efficiency, the club said.

Utility has gone to court to try and get lighter regional haze requirements

The utility lately has been trying to fight off a tough new air mandate for its coal plants. In a petition filed Sept. 3 at the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, OG&E joined Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in requesting a rehearing before the full 10-judge panel to determine if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted appropriately in rejecting the state’s regional haze plan.

On July 19, a three-member panel ruled 2-1 that the EPA lawfully exercised its authority to impose a federally mandated plan on the state. If upheld, the panel’s ruling is expected to result in large rate increases for Oklahoma electric consumers since it would require expensive emissions retrofits on coal-fired capacity.

“This is among the first decisions in the country to address EPA’s review under the Clean Air Act’s regional haze provisions,” said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. “The majority opinion gives EPA the ability to replace the State of Oklahoma’s decision with its own. This is especially egregious considering the errors made by the EPA when it conducted its own analysis.”

Alford said the three-member panel opinion failed to require the EPA to show why the state’s rule was unreasonable before the agency could reject the state’s implementation plan. OG&E also believes that EPA’s analysis were frequently based on assumptions unsupported by the record, contrary to basic engineering or economic realities, or based on materials or analysis that EPA did not provide to Oklahoma during the State’s lengthy process for making its best available retrofit technology (BART) determination.

The case involves two units at OG&E’s Sooner plant and two units at the Muskogee plant. Instead of SO2 scrubbers, the Oklahoma plan called for use of low-sulfur coal and gave affected utilities in the state the flexibility to burn less coal and more natural gas on a timetable that achieves the goals of the regional haze rule while limiting the cost to customers.

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.