Natural gas is a big deal in Oklahoma, but the state still relies on coal.
About 40 percent of the electricity generated in the state is fueled by burning coal, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency show. But Oklahoma’s reliance on coal presents a number of problems.
First, Oklahoma sits on a massive amount of natural gas, more than all but three other states, and it seems like common sense to use it. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of the coal Oklahoma burns for electricity has to be shipped here from Wyoming.
That’s because Oklahoma’s coal is too dirty — it’s really high in sulfur. Burning large quantities of it violates the federal federal Clean Air Act. So mining for Oklahoma coal on a large scale hasn’t been economically viable in decades.
Expanding overseas markets, especially in Asia, are beginning to increase demand, but that brings us to another problem — the federal government.
Coal in Court
President Barack Obama’s administration cracking down on coal. Provisions of the Clean Air Act choked off the state’s coal mining industry long ago, but new regulations on coal-fired power plants — there are six large ones in Oklahoma — are forcing one of the state’s major utilities, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, to install expensive air scrubbers, and have driven the other, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, to court.
All this after the federal government made Oklahoma switch away from natural gas and back to coal during the Jimmy Carter Administration, because of fears of a natural gas shortage.
But why the government is going after coal is obvious, and another reason relying on coal causes problems for Oklahoma: It’s dirty — bad for your health and the environment.
The Sierra Club, with their Beyond Coal Campaign, and other environment groups have produced evidence of impaired lakes and rivers from dumping coal ash into waterways, and air fouled by toxic emissions. In other words, living near a coal-fired power plant is no picnic.
But moving away from coal and more toward natural gas and renewables is anything but cheap. A new natural gas plant can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So can installing scrubbers at existing coal plants.
Initially, that costs the utility companies, but eventually it’s the customers who pay in the form of higher electricity rates.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to roll back many Obama-era rules meant to combat climate change.
Coal is the king of modern electricity generation in the United States. It’s also responsible for one of the nation’s largest streams of industrial waste. About 130 million tons of coal ash containing arsenic, cadmium and mercury are produced every year. The waste can be disposed of — or recycled. But critics and residents in southeastern Oklahoma question whether federal rules and state regulations are enough to keep the public safe.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric went before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission again this week to try to get approval for environmental upgrades at its coal-fired power plant in Red Rock, Okla.
A press release from Pruitt’s office says representatives from Oklahoma were at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. first thing Friday morning to ask the federal court to review the Clean Power Plan.
Unit No. 3 is buzzing with construction workers who are installing environmental upgrades to make the coal-fired operation run cleaner.
Oklahoma’s largest utility companies say they’re already on track to meet the carbon-reduction goals in the federal plan.
Though just finalized, the plan has been in the works for two years, and Oklahoma has opposed it every step of the way.