KGOU

Joe Wertz

Reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is part two in StateImpact Oklahoma's "Twister Truths" series where we use data to kick the tires on the conventional wisdom underlying severe weather policy in Oklahoma. Read part one here

Despite the risk that comes with living in Tornado Alley, many Oklahomans are reluctant to build tornado shelters. And state and local building codes don’t factor for twisters.

RANDOMTRUTH / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma’s environment is under attack.

Crops, pastures, trees and wildlife habitats are being threatened. Even cemetery headstones are in the line of fire, Reuters reports.

The Pig Army has declared war on Oklahoma, and farmers and ranchers are doing their best to fight back. But the ranks of this battalion of wild boars aren’t filled with pot-bellies, the news services’ Kevin Murphy reports:

Oklahoma Attorney General's Office

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is no fan of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and filing lawsuits against the federal agency has become a signature of the state’s chief legal adviser.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The energy industry fuels Oklahoma’s economy, and the state is flush with active rigs and plentiful oil and natural gas production.

Oklahoma’s oilfields are booming, as are state tax credits for drilling, which is leading some to question whether it’s sound fiscal policy to incentivize a thriving industry.


Col. Michael Teague, Secretary of Energy and the Environment
Oklahoma Governor's Office

Gov. Mary Fallin on Aug. 16 appointed Col. Michael Teague as secretary of energy and environment.

Fallin’s choice for the cabinet position — which was created by combining the vacant offices of secretaries of energy and environment — was immediately criticized by the president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, the state’s largest industry trade organization.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Tourism Commission on June 26 voted to strip Hugo Lake of its state park status, citing low attendance.

The commission acted “quietly,” but State Sen. Jerry Ellis (D-Valliant) responded loudly, The Journal Record’s M. Scott Carter reports:

On Aug. 2, Ellis sent a letter to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin asking that the Tourism Commission reconsider the status of the park using factual information.

Olliehigh / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma City already depends on water from southeastern Oklahoma, but the 60-inch, 100-mile pipeline from Lake Atoka ain’t enough.

Provided / The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., the state’s largest electric utility, alleging the company violated the federal Clean Air Act by modifying a coal burner at its Muskogee power plant without “planning for increased levels of air pollution and failing to obtain a permit from state regulators.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A summer fish kill in north-central Oklahoma is worrying anglers, river-goers and nearby water users.

The Salt Fork River die-off was massive and, still months after it was reported, mysterious. Researchers and state authorities say they still don’t know who or what the killer is.

Two fish kills were reported to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, records show. The first one on June 3, upstream near Lamont; the second on June 17, near Tonkawa. The two fish kills are likely related, so state authorities are investigating them as one event, officials from the DEQ, state Department of Wildlife Conservation and Corporation Commission tell StateImpact.

“In the areas that overlapped during the kills, there is absolutely zero aquatic life other than turtles,” says Spencer Grace, a state game warden stationed in Kay County.

CALI2OKIE / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over the last 12 months, the state has collected $11.3 billion in tax revenue — an all-time high, State Treasurer Ken Miller said Monday.

The record tax receipt — $12.6 million higher than the previous record set in December 2008 — is an indication that Oklahoma has recovered from the Great Recession, Miller said.

SFC Kendall James / U.S. Department of Defense

Editor's Note: This is part one in StateImpact Oklahoma's "Twister Truths" series where we use data to kick the tires on the conventional wisdom underlying severe weather policy in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, state and local emergency authorities emphasize individual shelters in peoples’ homes over communal shelters in schools or other civic buildings. As we reported here, almost all the federal disaster funding the state receives has been directed to rebates for the construction of residential shelters and safe rooms.

boy walking through rubble
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Since the deadly tornadoes that struck the state this spring, StateImpact has been taking a look at Oklahoma’s severe weather policy, and asking questions like: Why aren’t there more safe rooms in schools?

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm
Provided / Continental Resources

Oil billionaire Harold Hamm, the CEO and Chairman of Oklahoma energy giant Continental Resources has been tapped to lead state Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election campaign.

The Associated Press reports:

Pruitt described Hamm as a “dedicated businessman, visionary, and icon here in Oklahoma.”

OETA

StateImpact joined OETA journalists Dick Pryor and Bob Sands and Journal Record energy reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo for an Oklahoma Forum discussion about threats to the state’s air, land and water.

LLudo / Flickr Creative Commons

Moore, Norman and Oklahoma City are the primary polluters of Lake Thunderbird, a sensitive drinking water source classified as “impaired” by the Environmental Protection Agency, new data show.

State and municipal water and environmental authorities have been working on a plan to clean up the lake, colloquially referred to as “dirtybird” for its murky appearance and weird smell, which still hasn’t met Clean Water Act target dates from 30 years ago.

Cali2Okie / Flickr Creative Commons

There were 951 oil spills reported in Oklahoma last year, more than every other major energy state state except North Dakota, EnergyWire reports.

The news service has been trying to count the number of spills in the U.S. and measure their impact, but has been stymied by haphazard reporting of spills, which “are scattered amid databases, websites and even file drawers of state agencies across the country”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has experienced an increase in earthquakes in recent years, a phenomenon many geophysicists have linked to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.

The 5.7-magnitude quake that injured two people and destroyed 14 homes in November 2011 was Oklahoma’s largest on record and is likely the largest triggered by wastewater injection, a team of geophysicists concluded in a report released in March.

StateImpact Oklahoma

The federal government on Monday filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Gas & Electric, accusing the electric utility of violating the Clean Air Act by improperly estimating the amount of emissions that could come from upgrades at two coal-fired power plants.

A copy of the government’s complaint, which was made through the Environmental Protection Agency, is included on StateImpact Oklahoma's website.

Olliehigh / Flickr Creative Commons

While the State of Oklahoma won the Supreme Court Water War with Texas, its in-state skirmish is still simmering.

This battle — between the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations — is being waged within Oklahoma’s borders. But unlike the Red River water dispute, reports from the front lines of Oklahoma’s tribal water war are sketchy and scarce. The Associated Press’ Tim Talley explains news drought:

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Moore City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on an ordinance that would strengthen construction standards to help reduce damage from tornadoes.

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