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.
Representative Charles McCall’s bill to allow counties to impose a tax on sand and limestone mining operations that sell their product elsewhere didn’t make it through the full House by the March 14 deadline.
But McCall, R-Atoka, says he will try again next year.
“Unfortunately the measure will go no further this session … however it can and will be introduced next year,” McCall tells StateImpact. “The additional time will afford further education to the membership on this matter.”
As StateImpact reported in February, for years, south-central Oklahoma lawmakers have been pushing for a new tax — or at least a county option for a new tax — on companies that mine for stone and sand, particularly in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Continue Reading →
Only about 18,000 of Oklahoma’s 3.8 million residents have flood insurance. And less than half of that many have policies that are subsidized by the federal government. But for those 7,000 or so Oklahomans, flood insurance is getting much more expensive.
As The Associated Press’Kristi Eaton reports, those subsidies are for “homes and businesses constructed in the days before there were rules for building close to water,” but claims have outpaced premium payments. and the National Flood Insurance Program called for reform of the system in 2012:
In 2012, Congress passed a law requiring approximately 1.1 million subsidized policyholders to start paying rates based on the true risk of flooding at their properties. Congress heard the public outcry and passed legislation — signed by President Barack Obama on Friday — that pulls back on some of the increases. Instead of immediate, onerous spikes, homeowners will see annual premium increases as high as 18 percent year after year. Policies for businesses and second homes will climb 25 percent each year.
In October 2013, StateImpact reported on the 14,000 or so mostly rural Oklahoma City residents who have their own water wells and aren’t connected to the city water system.
There’s no charge for water on their utility bills, but they’re still supposed to pay for trash pickup. But as The Oklahoman‘s William Crum reports, 2,409 of these waterless utility accounts are past due, and have been for years — to the tune of $5.5 million:
A report prepared last fall by Oklahoma City for the 2014 legislative session showed 16 accounts more than $20,000 behind in payments for stormwater and trash service.
The customer at the top of the list was Burke Thomas, of 8301 N. Air Depot Blvd.
Thomas owed $755.37 in stormwater drainage charges and $3,110.58 for solid waste pickup. Late fees of $3,669.35 on the stormwater bill and $17,486.50 on the trash bill brought the total to $25,021.80. The late fees accounted for 84.5 percent of the total.
The evidence continues to mount that fluid injection by the oil and gas industry causes earthquakes. The energy industry maintains it’s not to blame. While the debate continues, Oklahoma is rumbling more and more.
Parts of western Oklahoma are going into their fourth year of drought, and for the City of Altus, the prospect of its water sources drying up entirely is a real concern.
As The Altus Times’ Jason Angus reports, at a city council meeting on Tuesday, projected dates for the complete depletion of Lake Tom Steed, one of Altus’ two main water sources, were discussed:
As of Tuesday, Lake Tom Steed was at 29.2 percent capacity according the the Bureau of Reclamation, reported Will Archer, Manager of the Mountain Park Conservancy District. If the inflow of water into the reservoir remains the same as the last three years, depletion of the reservoir will not occur until August of 2021. However, if there are no significant inflow events, then the projected date is November 2016.
Lisa Davis (right), founder of the advocacy group Save Lake Texoma, near Rooster Creek Bridge at Lake Texoma State Park.
At the end of August 2013, Lake Texoma was full of water. But drought, and decisions by state and federal officials have meant a drop in levels. That’s a big problem for Kingston, Okla., a community that depends on lake tourism for its local economy.
Dick Duhn, owner of Arbuckle RV Resort, said business was down more than 50 percent during the government shutdown.
The U.S. government shutdown in October 2013 was the culmination of a national political fight over federal budgeting, but its effects were felt far from Washington, D.C., including at two federal park sites in Oklahoma.
Sulphur, Okla. relies heavily on the tourism revenue it gets as a result of being attached to the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, which was shutdown for the first half of October along with the rest of the country’s national parks and wildlife refuges.
StateImpact reported on how the shutdown was hurting local businesses at the time, and now, as The Oklahoman‘s Silas Allen reports, we have a better picture of just how bad the financial pain got:
According to a National Park Service report released this month, gateway communities like Sulphur that sit just outside park entrances nationwide lost a combined $414 million in visitor spending during the 16-day period.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area saw roughly 49 percent fewer visitors in October compared to October 2012, according to National Park Service data. That drop in visitors cost Sulphur and the surrounding area an estimated $1 million, park superintendent Bruce Noble said.
As StateImpact has reported, “the volatile oils they contain can cause the trees to explode during wildfires… They also crowd out other plants, force wildlife off their habitats, and hoard rainfall.”
It’s easy to see why you might not want them around during a drought, and lawmakers have proposed ideas from a prisoner-eradication program to developing markets for cedar products like mulch and shingles.
But as The Journal Record‘s Brian Brus reports, at Langston University, goat research is providing another possible solution:
The animals’ appetite for otherwise-unpalatable flora might be the solution to the problem plaguing Oklahoma’s farmers and other land managers…
“Goats don’t magically control red cedars overnight, but give them a few years and they’ll gradually browse it and strip the bark until it’s dead,” [Langston University Agriculture scientist Steve Hart] says.”
Washed limestone tumbles into railcars behind this artificial berm near Mill Creek, Okla.
Some landowners frustrated by the expansion of mining in south-central Oklahoma — particularly in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer — hope a slight change to the state’s mining law will make a major difference in the public’s ability to go up against large sand and limestone mining companies.
The Oklahoma Senate passed that slight change 36-0 late last week. Senate Bill 1184, by Susan Paddack, D-Ada, would change the permitting process at the state Department of Mines, replacing informal conferences with formal public hearings.
Right now, when a new mining operation is proposed, the DoM holds an informal conference where residents and landowners in the area can air their concerns and frustrations. From StateImpact’s March 6 report:
“There’s no admission of evidence, anything,” Ford says. “It’s just kind of a — somebody from the Department of Mines, or sometimes a hearing examiner, just kind of sits in there and listens to everybody.”
After the informal conferences, the Department of Mines decides to issue a permit.
“Those that have participated in the informal conference are notified of this and allowed to file a request for a formal hearing,” Ford says.
So the first formal public hearing doesn’t happen until after the decision to issue a permit is made. For most agencies, the opposite is true.
Johnston County Landowner Clyde Runyon just outside a limestone mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Limestone and sand miners are getting a lot of attention lately. The amount of groundwater they can displace from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer was recently capped, and the state House could authorize a new tax on the industry.
That’s not all. The Oklahoma Department of Mines has an unusual permitting process some landowners say leaves them feeling helpless when a new mine is proposed, and they want that process changed.
“It’s really screwed up,” Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer President Amy Ford says.