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StateImpact Oklahoma

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The summer was tough on the Grand River Dam Authority’s relationship with Gov. Mary Fallin.

It started when the GRDA announced plans earlier this year to spend almost $400 million to build a new natural gas power plant, and upgrade its newest coal-fired plant in compliance with new federal regulations.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Coal mining can cause a lot of damage to the landscape, and the federal government has rules about how mining companies are supposed to treat the land after they’re done with it.

Basically, they’re supposed to return it to approximately what it was like before.

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is charged with making sure the Oklahoma Department of Mines is enforcing that rule. If the Oklahoma mining regulator doesn’t, the feds can step in and take over that role.

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.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Limestone mining on Longhorn Mountain, northwest of Lawton, could start anytime. The company that leases the land on the western side has a permit to mine, and just needs to put up some bond money with the state Department of Mines to get started.

This is a surprise to the Kiowa Tribe, which has used Longhorn Mountain for hundreds of years as a temple where tribe members pray, have vision quests and retrieve sacred cedar used in many rituals.

But the mining shouldn’t come as a surprise. Cushing, Okla.-based Material Service Corporation — and President Larry Stewart — has had a permit for a 370-acre mine on the site for almost 10 years. It’s up to the company to decide when and whether to go forward with the project.

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.”

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.

texas longhorns grazing in a field
jaxx2kde / Flickr Creative Commons

For almost 150 years, the Kiowa Tribe has used Longhorn Mountain for ceremonies and to gather the cedar used to purify their homes. But tribal leaders say the sacred site is being threatened by gravel mining.

Two of the mountain’s five private landowners have leased water and property rights to Cushing-based Material Service of Oklahoma, Inc. Kristi Eaton reports with the Associated Press reports:

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?

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.

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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.

Angela Severn / Flickr Creative Commons

Public meetings on the recently approved draft of what would be Tulsa’s biggest ever capital improvement initiative continue through August. The list of potential projects range from widening streets and repairing bridges to replacing city pools with aquatic centers and building new zoo exhibits.

But paying the nearly $1 billion price tag is forcing Tulsa to get creative, as the Tulsa World‘s Zack Stoycoff reports:

BLUEATHENA7 / Flickr

Enid is growing. It’s population is on the rise thanks to the oil and gas industry, and its importance as an agricultural center. In fact, the city is expected to add 1,700 more jobs over the next two years. All good news, right?

Except there’s really no place for new residents to live. Enid has been experiencing a housing shortage since 2008, when, as The Journal Record‘s Molly M. Fleming reports, more than 100 homes were built in Garfield County:

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.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Of the many ideas for changes to state policy following May’s deadly tornado outbreak —changing building codes to make public structures safer, requiring shelters in new school buildings, providing money to upgrade schools without shelters — the one that has the best chance of actually happening is ‘tornado days.’

Local superintendents don’t need any approval to cancel school in the winter— or spring, when sunny weather can quickly turn violent.


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:

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

It seemed like a good idea back in 1979: Broken Arrow, population 35,000 at the time, would pipe its water in from the Grand River, 27 miles away, and save some money over buying water from Tulsa.

Finzio / Flickr Creative Commons

The count of kids with cavities is on the rise in Pottawatomie County, where no fluoride is added to the public water systems.

And pediatric health groups and a local dental association are sounding alarms, the Shawnee News-Star’s Madi Alexander reports:

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