Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People
Logan Layden is a native of McAlester, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009 and spent three years as a state capitol reporter and local host of All Things Considered for NPR member station KGOU in Norman.
A pile of coal sits along the railroad tracks just east of Red Oak, Okla.
Oklahoma has been battling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over new environmental regulations since Gov. Mary Fallin came into office in 2010, and Attorney General Scott Pruitt is vowing to fight the latest proposed rule that would cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationally.
But a new study from Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group shows the state might be shooting itself in the foot by fighting what could end up being an economic boom.
The study took into account the economic costs imposed by the regulation and concluded that it would raise electricity rates by up to 10 percent in some parts of the country and eventually freeze coal production. But even taking those costs into account, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas together would experience an annual net economic benefit of up to about $16 billion, according to the study.
“The irony is that some of the states that have been the loudest in opposing E.P.A. climate regulations have the most to gain in terms of actual economic interest,” said Trevor Houser, an analyst at the Rhodium Group and a co-author of the study.
Over the past week, Oklahoma has secured more than $37 million in federal funding for dam improvements across the state and for water system repairs in communities with aging pipes and treatment plants.
First, on July 18, the federal governmentannounced a national dam assessment and repair program made possible by an “almost 21 fold” increase in funding for watershed rehabilitation under the 2014 Farm Bill. $26.4 million will go to Oklahoma.
Federal and state officials gathered Friday at one such structure, a dam on Perry Lake, to announce $262 million in funding under the 2014 Farm Bill to rehabilitate or assess the condition of hundreds of dams across the nation, including $26.4 million for Oklahoma projects. The idea is to make sure these dams, many built more than a half-century ago, are safe and in good condition for the future.
The recent wet weather has been more than welcome by residents of drought-parched southwest Oklahoma, but it hasn’t yet been enough to reverse the depletion of municipal water supplies.
Now the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is stepping in to help communities there to keep from running out of water. From The Associated Press:
The studies will focus on how water conservation, marginal quality water supplies and public water supply system regionalization might address the needs of basins on a local level and serve as examples for water users statewide.
The studies are part of the state’s ongoing water conservation initiative.
Mitchell Logan supervises a pump station near Macomb, the 100-mile Atoka Pipeline's last stop on its way to the OKC metro.
Oklahoma City has been pumping water out of southeast Oklahoma through the Atoka pipeline for 50 years. But in the future, the aging pipeline won’t be able to carry enough water to meet the growing needs of Oklahoma City, let alone the rest of central Oklahoma. The plan is build another pipeline right next to the existing one.
Seventeen central Oklahoma communities formed a partnership with Oklahoma City to build the new 100-mile pipeline to get the water, but that water coalition has crumbled.
A waterfall at Disney State Park on Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.
Four state parks in northeastern Oklahoma could be sold off, leased out or closed due to state budget cuts and low park revenue.
Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation hasn’t made a final decision on three of the parks, but is considering selling or leasing Disney/Little Blue Area at Grand Lake, Snowdale Area at Grand Lake and Spring River Canoe Trails.
But the agency on July 8 decided to terminate the state’s lease at Walnut Creek, which is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, KJRH reports.
Selling or leasing the parks are just two of the options they are considering.
Blair said department leaders are exploring all possibilities.
On Tuesday, the tourism and recreation department said it would terminate its lease at Walnut Creek State Park in Osage County, thereby closing the park at the end of summer.
Despite the rain, many parts of the state are still struggling, state climatologist Gary McManus said. Conditions have improved in northern and western Oklahoma, where the drought has been the most severe for the past several months.
But the situation is beginning to worsen in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state, he said.
Norman has had to shut down wells because of high arsenic levels in the past, and the problem won’t be solved until a new treatment plant is built. The city has adopted a plan that includes a new plant, but it will be several years before it’s up and running.
The city has shut down four of its 32 wells because of high arsenic levels, officials said. The wells will be missed, but there’s no critical shortage of water, Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. The four wells represent 4 percent of the city’s total production, Komiske said.
The City of Norman faced a choice last month, meet future municipal water needs by partnering with Oklahoma City to pipe more water from southeast Oklahoma, or treat its wastewater to the point that it can be used again.
The Water Utilities Trust on Tuesday agreed to a five-year, $1 billion plan that includes work on a second pipeline to ship drinking water from southeast Oklahoma, steps to integrate separate parts of the water distribution system, and improvements to enable reuse of water from Oklahoma City’s Deer Creek wastewater treatment plant.
Treated wastewater would be of a consistently higher quality than the variable river water feeding Lake Hefner, said Marsha Slaughter, the utilities director.
Earlier in June, StateImpact’s Joe Wertz reported Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent was preparing a lawsuit over the constitutionality of a new tax incentive setting the gross production tax rate at two percent for the first three years of an oil or gas well’s operation. Thursday, Fent made it official.
Jerry Fent alleges in his lawsuit that the Legislature violated provisions in the Oklahoma Constitution for revenue bills because the measure was enacted during the last five days of the legislative session, it did not have a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate and its effective date was too soon.
Harold Heiple, chairman of Norman's charter review committee, addresses the city council in Norman June 17.
Norman is the only city in Oklahoma where utility rates are determined by a vote of the people — who aren’t always willing to charge themselves more for water. A proposal to change that came before the city council last week and was rebuffed, despite consensus that allowing voters to decide rates could be hurting the city.
Letting customers vote on rate increases seems like a great way to fund expensive water system repairs and give citizens a voice. But some members of the Norman City Council, like Greg Heiple, say that city’s unique way of handling water ends up costing more.
“I came up with some estimates, and these are my guesses. It has cost us in the last 40 years a quarter of a billion to a half billion dollars in cost of waiting on projects,” Heiple says.