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UPDATE: What StateImpact Is Watching In Oklahoma’s 2015 Legislative Session

Apr 23, 2015

There’s only about a month left in Oklahoma’s 2015 legislative session, and if bills haven’t made it out of the chamber they started in by now, they’re dead.

Of the bills of interest to us at StateImpact, the highest profile place new restrictions the wind industry and reduce local control over oil and gas activities. Wind farms have beengetting a reimbursement on their property taxes, but that will almost certainly end if Senate Bill 498 get’s to Governor Mary Fallin’s desk. Last Thursday, Republican Representative Earl Sears told the House his bill has the blessing of the wind industry.

“After months, and I literally mean months of negotiations, we have come to an agreement,” said on the House floor.

Representative David Brumbaugh asked Sears, given how much wind power is now produced in Oklahoma, if the property tax incentive had reached the limit of its effectiveness.

There is no question we wanted to incentivize this industry,” Sears said. “We’ve done that. It’s a resounding success in the state of Oklahoma. And the time is now to have a modest — come in and look at these particular credits, and that’s what we’re doing.”

One bill that’s already been signed by the governor would limit the placement of wind turbines. Under the bill, they could be built no closer than one and a half nautical miles from airports, public schools, and hospitals.

Concerns about water quality and the massive uptick in earthquakes have some residents in Stillwater, Norman, and other cities pushing their local officials for tougher rules on oil and gas drilling. There are several bills that would put a stop to that sort of thing in Oklahoma, by banning such bans. One that’s shown momentum was authored by House Speaker Jeff Hickman.

“Members, you may have seen in the news recently about some of the things that have been going on in Texas, in the community of Denton, where a handful of people were able to ban fracking in Denton,” Hickman said on the House floor.

Hickman’s bill passed the full House and is now awaiting action on the Senate side. And that’s not the only bill that’s keeping environmentalists up at night. Right-to-farm is breezing through the process. If passed, Oklahomans would vote on whether to add broad language to the state constitution protecting the ag industry from animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the U.S., which is blasting right-to-farm on TV.

The right-to-farm bill passed the state House 90 to 6 in March, and had no problem passing the Senate, but will have to go back to the House after being amended.

Coming into the session, it looked like water was going to be a big issue. There was the Regional Water Planning Act, the Regional Water Development Act, and the Regional Water Sustainability Act — all from eastern Oklahoma lawmakers hoping to keep water from being moved out of their districts. None of their efforts survived.

What’s still alive is Altus Republican Mike Shulz’ bill to study the possibility of transferring water from the east to the drought-stricken west. Byron Bohanon and Jim Koopman down at Sardis Lake, near Atoka, don’t like the sound of that.

“They’d just pour it out on the ground,” Koopman told StateImpact in March. “Water don’t run uphill. They’re going to have to pump it to get it there. They can go north and get it coming downhill and just dam and turn it where they want to. I don’t know why they want to take it so far back up there uphill when they can get it when it’s coming downhill.”

And for three years, StateImpact has followed the effort to impose a tax on limestone and sand miners in south-central Oklahoma’s sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Much of that material is mined by Texas companies and sent south of the Red River. Atoka Representative Charles McCall says there’s very little benefit in that deal for his constituents.

“The problem at the heart of this issue is that these minerals that are severed — there is no financial benefit for the counties that lose these,” McCall said on the House floor. “We are not imposing a tax today. We are doing nothing more than authorizing the people who elected us to make the decision that is best for their county.”

The idea got further than it ever has, passing the full House. But, it died in a Senate Committee. Maybe next year.

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