Senator Inhofe Puts Polluters Ahead of Oklahoma Lakes

Lake Hefner at sunset. Fishers are drawn for the smallmouth bass, white bass and catfish. But mercury contamination remains an unresolved problem. Image from OK.Gov.
Oklahoma City’s Lake Hefner is an urban oasis bustling with life, and rated as one of the best lakes for sail boarding. With a boat dock and fishing docks, it’s a draw for families eager to catch some catfish, white bass or crappie. The lake has been featured for months on the homepage of the state’s senior senator, James Inhofe. The problem is it’s polluted.

Oklahoma’s five coal-fueled power plants are spewing toxic mercury into the air, triggering warnings for Lake Hefner and 15 other state lakes. In July 2010, a study by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (OK DEQ) found 16 lakes in Oklahoma where some species of fish contain levels of mercury above what is considered safe. As a result, the state governmental agency published its statewide fish consumption advisories to protect Oklahomans from consuming too much mercury-laden fish caught by anglers from the state’s lakes.

Mercury from coal-fired power plants settles onto lakes and other waterways, entering the food chain and eventually ending up in fish and the people who consume them.  Mercury, arsenic and other toxic pollutants are subject to no national limit, leaving coal plants to spew as much as they want. It’s been shown to be especially harmful to children and pregnant mothers, where it adversely affects developing brains and can hinder a child’s ability to walk, talk, read and learn.

Progress is being made to clean up lakes like Hefner. More than 900,000 Americans have called on the Environmental Protection Agency to issue long overdue standards for reducing the pollution.  It’s expected to save lives and create jobs. But polluters are out to stop it.

Polluters have found a friend in Senator James Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior senator.  He’s expected to demand a vote on a “Congressional Review Act resolution (CRA)” before June 21 to strike down the EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards for power plants as soon as today.  The CRA is a wrecking ball that would permanently prevent national standards for mercury and air toxics.

POLITICO has reported that Sen. Inhofe called the new standard “a killer.”  Really, Senator? Joe Mendelson, NWF climate and energy policy director says:

“Senator Inhofe has it backward on what the ‘killer’ is in this situation.  EPA and public health and environment groups all agree that the overdue mercury and air toxics standard will save as many as 11,000 lives, while reducing dangerous mercury exposure to children and pregnant mothers who consume fish laced with the toxic substance. EPA has also created a rule that will foster 46,000 construction jobs and 8,000 utility jobs as plants upgrade to cleaner technologies.

“Senator Inhofe may satisfy his polluter special interest friends by attacking these pollution safeguards, but his Oklahoma constituents and Americans will enjoy cleaner air, healthier water and wildlife, and fewer premature deaths. With these new standards, President Obama and the EPA have proved themselves champions for our health and environment, while Senator Inhofe makes clear he’s the polluter’s champ.”

Polluter Money

Why would Senator Inhofe put polluters ahead of cleaning up the lakes in his state?

Oklahoma is home to five coal-fired power plants that are the source of the pollution. One such power plant, the Northeastern Plant, is owned by American Electric Power (AEP). In 2010, a report benchmarking power plant air pollution (see page 34) found AEP power plants to be the largest collective source of mercury air pollution among all the nation’s largest utilities.

Between 1998 and 2011, AEP spent over $10M lobbying Congress, including plenty over the last year, to rollback air pollution standards like EPA’s new mercury and air toxic limits.  For his part, Senator Inhofe has received nearly half-million dollars from electric utility industries in campaign contributions (including some from AEP) during his career including a whopping $280K this election cycle.

Speak Out!

Take ActionWe can stop Senator Inhofe’s “killer” plan. Take action NOW! Tell Congress that it’s time to clean up mercury pollution in the lakes and waterways that threaten our children and wildlife.