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Bill to limit opposition to industrial water permits has stalled in the Oklahoma Legislature

U.S. Geological Survey

House Bill 2053 would throw out protests of permits from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) if the complaints are “based solely on the industry or entity applying to use the water.” Legislative discussions have highlighted the bill’s pertinent to poultry operations, the oil and gas industry and cannibis growers.

Sen. Brent Howard, who co-authored the bill, says the measure was meant to promote government efficiency and protect industries from what he calls “frivolous protests.”

“I don't believe that we should just protest based upon it being an industry,” Howard said. “If they're misusing water, that should be done on a case-by-case basis.

The bill emphasizes the OWRB deals only with water rights and availability; water quality is the purview of other regulatory agencies. But critics say the measure could take away the OWRB’s ability to fully consider permitting issues.

“Are we giving the Water Board more authority to determine validity and invalidity?” asked Sen. Jo Ann Dossett during a Senate Energy and Telecommunications meeting. “Or are we giving them less authority because we are dictating in statute which protests they're going to hear in which protests they're not going to hear?”

Water advocacy group Save the Illinois River wrote its leadership believes the measure was a response to recent court cases against the poultry industry.

“HB2053 weaponizes the permitting process to frighten private citizens and bluff them into inaction,” wrote Denise Deason-Toyne, president of advocacy group Save the Illinois River.

Among them is a suit from the Spring Creek Coalition, which alleges Oklahoma state agencies issue licenses to poultry facilities without alerting residents or gathering information on the potential impacts on public health or the environment.

Last month, a judge ruled the Spring Creek Coalition’s case should proceed despite objections from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. HB2053 was introduced in January, before that court decision but after the lawsuit was filed.

Stillwell Rep. David Hardin, the bill’s original author, told the Tulsa World the measure is likely dead for now but could be resurrected in future legislative sessions.

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Copyright 2023 KOSU. To see more, visit KOSU.

Graycen Wheeler