KGOU

Joe Wertz

Managing Editor 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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dead fish in dry riverbed
OakleyOriginals / Flickr Creative Commons

Tulsa has been spared the worst effects of Oklahoma’s drought, which has been concentrated in western and southwestern regions of the state.

A disposal well in Northern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A Love County disposal well was shutdown last week after a state seismologist suggested it might have triggered a swarm of damaging earthquakes that shook the area for weeks in September.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt prepares to greet Gov. Mary Fallin at the 2013 State of the State address at the state capitol.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is at war with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which he says is overstepping its authority. He’s sued the federal agency and testified to Congress about its abuses.

The most visible battles have been over coal regulation, but the fight is about power — not power plants.

Red dots indicate schools without shelters. Green dots are schools with shelters.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The results of a statewide survey released Thursday show 62 percent of Oklahoma’s 1,804 public schools don’t have storm shelters, and only 15 percent have shelters built to withstand the 250 mph winds of an EF5 tornado, like the ones that swept through central Oklahoma in May 2013.

StateImpact has mapped the data from the survey, the first statewide accounting of public school storm shelters, which was conducted by Bar None Consulting for the Oklahoma Legislature’s use in an interim study.

350.org / Flickr Creative Commons

A Sept. 21 protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline attracted 74 people who walked a portion of the pipeline’s proposed route, The Journal Record reports.

Provided / State of Oklahoma

Geophysicists have linked Oklahoma’s largest earthquake to an injection well used by the oil and gas industry, and there is growing concern among many seismologists that underground disposal of oilfield waste fluid can trigger quakes or make it easier for faults to slip.

Wastewater disposal wells have been linked to quakes in a half-dozen other states. Oklahoma’s regulatory response has been more passive than most, StateImpact reported in May.

Retired Col. Michael Teague, Secretary of Energy and Environment, stands in front of a dam at Lake Eufaula.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Traditionally, Oklahoma’s governor has relied on advice from separate officials representing energy and the environment.

But in July, Gov. Mary Fallin moved to combine the two offices into one. “Strong energy policy is strong environmental policy,” Fallin said in a statement accompanying an executive order creating the new Secretary of Energy and Environment cabinet secretary post.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ravaged crops and helped plunge the U.S. into an environmental and economic depression. Farmland in parts of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas disappeared.

After the howling winds passed and the dust settled, federal foresters planted 100 million trees across the Great Plains, forming a giant windbreak — known as a shelterbelt — that stretched from Texas to Canada.

Now, those trees are dying from drought, leaving some to worry whether another Dust Bowl might swirl up again.

An Experiment That Worked

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Many Oklahomans are excited about the promise of wind energy, and the state is moving up the national ranks in wind power capacity.

But some are turning their backs on wind turbines, and the struggle highlights the challenges of regulating renewable energy.

When Tammy and Rick Huffstutlar bought their home and acreage 35 years ago, they were excited about living on a farm. But for the last year, Tammy says she’s been living in the middle of an industrial park.

Global Energy Network Institute

Oklahoma has a lot of wind energy potential, and the state’s overall capacity for wind-powered electricity generation is growing.

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.

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