By Darla Shelden
The public is invited to two free forums titled “The Coal Hard Truth”, which will take place in Oklahoma City on Thursday, July 26 and Tulsa on Tuesday, July 31. The Sierra Club, Oklahoma Interfaith Power and Light and Clean Energy Future OK have joined forces to host the two forums and to hear from citizens who are concerned about clean air in Oklahoma.
“We’ve had a significant number of unhealthy air days in Oklahoma thus far,” said Whitney Pearson, Sierra Club Associate Organizing representative. “A recent American Lung Association report, using data from 2007-2010, gave Oklahoma City and Tulsa an “F” rating for ozone pollution.
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has recently issued numerous ozone alerts for the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas that warn of increased pollution, which might have adverse health effects, especially during hot summer months.
“Coal-fired power plants are one of the largest sources of this pollution and Oklahoma has six plants around the state,” said Pearson. “It’s time to clean up the air and move toward a clean energy economy.”
“This is an important forum to continue to grow the public’s awareness of the dangers of coal,” said Jim Roth, Chair of the Alternative Energy Practice Group at Phillips Murrah P.C. and former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner. “Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel known to man. When you begin to calculate the cost to human life and health, it’s not the cheap fuel that its proponents think. In fact, the unproven technology to clean it up would cost us a fortune when the State of Oklahoma has cleaner options in natural gas and wind power.”
Oklahoma City forum panelists will include Temur Akhmedov, Business Development Director at ES2: Engineered Systems, Energy Solutions and LEED AP; Elizabeth Diener, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Oklahoma City University; and Whitney Pearson. Ted Metzler from Oklahoma Interfaith Power and Light will make an introductory statement. The League of Women Voters will be moderating both events. Tulsa panelists will be announced at a later date.
Akhmedov, a green building, energy efficiency and renewable energy consultant, will discuss Governor Mary Fallin’s energy plan and state law SB 1096 and how they will impact air quality and energy use. SB 1096 creates the Oklahoma State Facilities Energy Conservation Program and directs all state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve an energy efficiency and conservation improvement target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020.
“The Governor’s energy plan encompasses many things, such as energy efficiency; renewable energy and also transitions coal to natural gas”, said Akhmedov. “To make that transition possible and sensible, one of the important things to do is to make some of the energy efficient improvements to the buildings, which is part of the energy plan.”
Diener will discuss the negative health effects associated with coal and fossil fuel combustion. “Fossil fuels, notably coal, are the primary source of fine particle emissions,” said Diener. “These particles are so minute in size that they easily bypass our body’s natural protective mechanisms, leading to respiratory diseases both acute and chronic as well as cardiac and neurological disease.”
The Institute for Energy Research disagrees contending that coal-fired electricity generation is much cleaner today. The institute contends that modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are currently providing about 50% of America’s electricity. They expect pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants will continue to fall as technology improves.
“Oklahoma’s dirty outdated coal plants are a big part of our air quality problems. We can’t let big polluters decide whether we have clean air,” said Pearson.
Last spring, the Sierra Club joined Gov. Mary Fallin, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and American Electric Power subsidiary Public Service Co. of Oklahoma (AEP-PSO) in announcing an agreement, which set firm dates for retiring both units at AEP-PSO’s Northeastern coal-fired power plant near Oologah, OK.
Under the agreement, the first coal-burning unit at Northeastern will be retired by December 31, 2017. The second unit will remain online but will have pollution controls installed by December 31, 2017. Between 2017 and 2026, AEP-PSO will significantly reduce the amount of coal burned at the unit until it is decommissioned by December 2026.
2011 was one of the worst years on record for smog pollution in Oklahoma. The Tulsa metro area exceeded federal clean air protection levels on 25 separate days. Tulsa is surrounded by three coal plants within 50 miles of the city including an OG&E plant in Muskogee.
OG&E is now faced with the decision whether to retire their two coal fired power plants and replace them with cleaner energy or install emissions reducing technology and keep them online for several more decades.
“The new Oklahoma Interfaith Power and Light program joins the Sierra Club in promoting scheduled retirement of the coal-burning power plants,” said Metzler. “We already have encouraged continued Congressional support for cleaner alternatives such as the large wind farm currently being constructed near Hunter, Oklahoma.”
The Oklahoma City event will be held at the Bishop Angie Smith Chapel Watson Lounge, 2501 N Blackwelder Avenue, on the Oklahoma City University campus. The Tulsa forum will be held at the Tulsa Garden Center Auditorium, 2435 South Peoria. Both events will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For more information, www.sierraclub.org/coal/ok/