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EPA: Plants Ducked Years of Permits

Thursday, July 11, 2013

More items for Environmental Controls

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Federal regulators have filed suit against Oklahoma Gas and Electric, alleging that the utility ignored permit laws for more than $60 million in power plant upgrades that date back a decade.

The complaint by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, filed Monday (July 8) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, accuses OG&E of failing to estimate emissions from eight major projects at two coal plants between 2003 and 2006.

The emissions assessments are required under the U.S. Clean Air Act. EPA's suit accuses OG&E of ignoring the permitting process "to evade" the law's requirements for the projects, which ranged from $3.7 million to $12.4 million.

'Immediate and Substantial Controversy'

"As such," the suit says, "there exists an immediate and substantial controversy between the United States and OG&E with regard to the interpretation and proper application of the Clean Air Act and associated implementing regulations."

Muskogee Generating Station
State Impact - Oklahoma

The EPA says OG&E completed five major upgrade projects at the Muskogee Generating Station without performing required emissions assessments.

The suit comes more than two years after the EPA issued a Notice of Violation to OG&E for the alleged violations.

OG&E, a division of OGE Energy Corp., serves more than 801,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

8 Projects

The lawsuit involves a suite of construction projects at OG&E's Sooner Generating Station in Red Rock and Muskogee Generating station in Fort Gibson.

Both plants include several coal-fired electric generating units, and both are classified as major sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act. Major sources include facilities that emit, or have the potential to emit, 100 tons of CAA-regulated air pollutants per year.

Federal law requires owners of such facilities to evaluate the potential emissions impact of any major facility modification before beginning construction. The evaluation includes comparing pre-construction baseline emissions with post-project projections.

Proposals and Promises

OG&E spent more than $61 million on the eight maintenance and expansion projects over three years. In none of those cases, however, did OG&E seek a Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit, as required by state and federal law, EPA contends.

Power plant monitoring

The suit seeks immediate and ongoing emissions assessments at both plants. In 2012, researchers used NASA technology to monitor outputs at the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center (left) and the Clinch River Power Plant.

Nor did the utility include a projection of post-project emissions as required by state and federal law, the suit says.

Instead, EPA says, OG&E submitted a letter that "propose[d]" to "limit emissions" so as not to exceed the PSD significant threshold increase level for five years after each project. The utility described this as its "proposed plan of action for compliance."

EPA was not satisfied, saying in its suit that a "promise to limit emissions once a project has been implemented" does not comply with the law.

Judgment Sought

OG&E's compliance pattern throughout the series of projects raises an "immediate and substantial controversy," the suit contends.

Sooner Generating Station

OG&E completed about $26 million in upgrades at Sooner Generating Station without required permits, EPA says.

EPA wants the federal court to:

  • Deem OG&E's "proposed plan of action" insufficient under the law;
  • Declare that the utility has violated federal law; and
  • Order OG&E to go back and perform the required assessments within 90 days.

Utility: 'We Followed Procedures'

OG&E has not yet formally responded to the suit, but spokesman Brian Alford told news outlets that the dispute involved a matter of interpretation.

Alford said the company believed it had been, and still was, in compliance with all state and federal requirements.

"We intend to vigorously defend our position, which is that we followed procedures," he told Reuters, "and actual monitored data indicates that emissions did not increase as a result of the work that was done."


Tagged categories: Air quality; Clean Air Act; Construction; Emissions; Enforcement; EPA; Facility Managers; Maintenance programs; Power Plants

Comment from Jim Johnson, (7/11/2013, 11:42 AM)

To file suit now on something that happened a decade or so ago would seem to be beyond any reasonable statute of limitations. If the law were broken why did the EPA not file suit in a timely manner, such as within a year or two? Virtually every crime has a statute of limitations, except homicide, so it would be only appropriate that the EPA have the same limitations. That would not mean the company could not be charged with something they are doing or not doing now, but to go back to 2006 is ludicrous.

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