Okla. AG argues state's regional haze case before Tenth Circuit

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 8, 2013

DENVER (Legal Newsline) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt this week argued the state's regional haze case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, eight months after the court temporarily stopped the federal Environmental Protection Agency from implementing its own plan in the state.

The EPA's Regional Haze Rule requires agencies to work together to improve visibility at national parks and wilderness areas by 2064.

In March 2011, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson informed the state Department of Environmental Quality that the federal government planned to implement its own regional haze plan in Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

In response, Pruitt said in December 2011 that he planned to appeal the EPA's decision.

Pruitt, a Republican, argues the federal government's move goes against Oklahoma's right to implement a state plan that accomplishes the same haze requirements by 2026, but allows for a more gradual transition and spares state utility consumers substantial rate increases.

"As attorney general, it is my job to preserve Oklahoma's right to formulate a state plan that meets the standards of the Regional Haze Rule," he said in 2011.

"The Clean Air Act clearly recognizes that Oklahomans, and not federal bureaucrats, are best situated to determine energy and environmental policies. This action by the Obama administration once again ignores the state's ability to craft an Oklahoma solution."

Pruitt also argues the federal plan, which could increase state utility rates by more than 13 percent, deals only with aesthetics and is not based on health.

Moreover, he says Oklahoma's industry leaders, elected officials, utility companies, consumer protection advocates and energy producers already spent months creating its State Implementation Plan to address the requirements of the federal rule in parts of the state.

"We will continue to fight this intrusion by appealing today's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit," the attorney general said in 2011.

Pruitt previously sued the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in May 2011.

The lawsuit, filed in response to the EPA's plan, claimed that the federal agency did not meet the deadline to file a Federal Implementation Plan and did not follow the required approval process.

Pruitt said this week the case is an important one for the state.

"Oklahoma families don't need to worry about skyrocketing utility costs at a time when they're struggling to pay their bills simply because the EPA can't follow the law," the attorney general said in a statement following arguments Wednesday.

"The EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act in this case and we will continue to challenge the agency's decision in order to preserve the ability of Oklahoma stakeholders to create an Oklahoma solution."

The Tenth Circuit stayed implementation of the federal plan in June, following a direct appeal of the final rule by the state.

"State officials worked with state utilities to construct a plan for regional haze that allows for fuel flexibility and balances environmental protection with the need for affordable energy. The EPA's decision, on the other hand, could cost state utilities $2 billion while providing less environmental benefits than the state plan -- and Oklahoma families, farmers and manufacturers would undoubtedly foot the bill," Pruitt said.

"I hope the court's decision will reaffirm the right of Oklahoma stakeholders to make this decision for Oklahomans, and not allow a federal agency to overstep its authority."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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