J.C. Moore Online
Current Events from a Science Perspective

Posts Tagged ‘Scott Pruitt’

We Should Not Weaken the EPA

Sat ,06/05/2017


Opponents of the EPA are now seeking comments on regulations that need to be eliminated by the EPA. They are, of course, focusing on the regulations that save businesses money by allowing them to pollute the environment. Please submit a comment at the link above asking that  no steps be taken to weaken the EPA.

It is our birthright that we and future Americans have clean air, pure water, and a livable Earth. The EPA has done a great job in limiting pollution to our environment and to remove the regulations that protect us would be a grave mistake.
Though many would like to see the EPA stop limiting carbon emissions, there is well-documented scientific evidence, supported by 97+ percent of climate scientists who are members of the American Geophysical Union, that carbon emissions are making undesirable changes in the Earth and its eco systems. The U.S. is second only to China in emissions but emits six times as much CO2 on a per capita basis. If the U.S. is not willing to reduce its emissions, why should other countries?

If anything, the EPA should strengthen the Clean Power Plan and reduce the amount of coal burned. Coal contains small amounts of mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur, particulates, and radioactive isotopes. Man burns 6 billion tons of coal each year, releasing millions of tons of pollutants into the air and leaving several hundred million tons behind in the coal ash. Some pollutants eventually find their way into the water, the food chain, and into us. For comparison, mercury is 100 times as toxic as cyanide, arsenic is 20 times as toxic, and chromium(VI) is 4 times as toxic. These three are also are carcinogenic and accumulate in tissue. Even exposure below the allowed levels increases the chance of cancer over time. The sulfur and nitrogen oxides released by coal combustion harm plants and produce acid rain.

Polls show that the public does not support weakening the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s plan may lead to increased electricity costs in the short term, but will lead to lower electric rates in the future. Coal and transportation prices are certain to increase in the future while the cost of renewable energy is falling. It costs upfront to build wind turbines and solar installations but, once they are in place, they are expected to function for 30 years or longer without any need for fuel.The EPA projects the Clean Power Plan’s proposed guidelines for particulates alone could prevent up to 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days per year. As a result, for every dollar Americans spend on the Clean Power Plan, we will gain up to $4 worth of health benefits. So in terms of future energy costs, environmental benefits, and health benefits, the EPA Clean Power Plan is good policy for our citizens.

You may submit a comment up until May 15 at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190-0042.

(C)  2017 J.C. Moore

A Bad Time to Cut Taxes in Oklahoma

Wed ,23/05/2012


Although this is about Oklahoma, your state may be experiencing some of the same problems. Many states  approved a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and many  state officials and legislators have signed Grover Norquist’s Tax Pledge, both  which make it difficult to raise taxes. When those are coupled with past and proposed  tax cuts, many states are now experiencing a budget squeeze that makes it difficult for them to provide core services for their citizens. A recent tax proposal in Oklahoma will give tax cuts to some of the wealthiest citizens, increase taxes for others, and result in $130 million loss in revenue for the state – if passed.

This is really a bad time to cut taxes in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is already facing problems paying for education, public safety, and infrastructure improvements. The recent tax proposal worked out by Governor Mary Fallin and Republican Legislature leaders falls far short of the needs of the state and earlier goals. It would reduce state revenues by over $130 million at a time when schools and other core services are struggling to recover from years of crippling budget cuts. This means fewer teachers and larger class sizes, higher tuition costs, fewer public safety officers, and resources cuts for those who serve the most vulnerable Oklahomans.

The Senate and House leaders have insisted for months that any tax cuts will be revenue-neutral so as not to impact the budget. Their effort to cut credits and subsidies for special interest groups have failed as lobbyists for the special interests have been effective in keeping the subsidies intact. It  leaves the state on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to oil and gas producers and other special interest groups and does nothing to address the skyrocketing costs of these credits.  Yet they have come up with a proposal to cut taxes  even though the proposed tax changes are not revenue neutral.

The political benefit of an advertised tax cut is much greater than any claimed economic benefit. The state leaders have assured us that cutting the income tax will create jobs and improve the economy. An analysis of a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece urging tax cuts reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of Oklahoma’s tax cut arguments and finds: “Tax cuts financed by reduced spending on public services … have been linked with negative growth consequences.  Government expenditures matter – other things equal, poorer public services hurt economic performance.” It is also very difficult to see how anyone can create a job with the average $60 tax cut. However it is very clear that $130 million could be used to fund 2000 jobs for teachers, policemen, firemen, and public servants.

 A Tax Cut for the Wealthy: The Oklahoma Tax Commission finds that 40% of the tax cut being considered will go to the top 4% of households but increase taxes for 24% of taxpayers.  Under this proposal, the tax increase and elimination of deductions will fall more on the lower and middle income wage earners. Our present income tax code is based on the idea that those who profit most from our state’s wealth, resources, and opportunities should pay a greater share of taxes. That’s fairer and more pragmatic than shifting more taxes to those who have less. This plan would increase taxes on 24% of low and middle income taxpayers. The OK Constitution forbids a tax increase without a three quarters vote of the Legislature or a referendum. When does that 24% get to vote on their tax increase?

Constitutional Issue : There is also a constitutional question involved. Oklahoma’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and 33  state representatives have signed The Americans for Tax Reform Pledge that they will oppose any effort to raise taxes. However, the Oklahoma Constitution, says in Article X, Section 5: under Surrender of Power of Taxation : “ A. Except as otherwise provided by this section, the power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended, or contracted away. “ Those who have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge appear to be in violation of the Oklahoma State Constitution as they have contracted away their power of taxation. The Pledge is signed and witnessed as a legal document. Those who have signed the pledge should  recuse themselves from any action on the state income tax.

A request to Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rule on the question was sidestepped. The Attorney General replied to a letter requesting his opinion  that his office did not research questions for individuals and suggested that the question be taken to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. When the complaint was then filed on the Attorney General’s official complaint form, the reply was: “Since the pledge was not filed as a bill in the Oklahoma legislature it does not seem that it would have a binding effect on the parties who signed it. Therefore, there would not be a conflict with the Oklahoma Constitution. You may consult an attorney to see if there are legal consequences that might be available to you.” The Oklahoma Constitution says it is the duty of the Attorney General “ to support, obey, and defend the Constitution of theUnited States, and the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma.” Apparently one must file a lawsuit to encourage the Attorney General to carry out his responsibilities.

Mortgaging Oklahoma’s Future: Although the state’s leadership has not budgeted adequately for the present or the future, their current tax proposal could have far-reaching effects. The proposal contains a trigger that would reduce the top tax rate to 4.5 % – if state income grows by 5 %. Part of the reason the state is in its present financial trouble is from a tax reduction trigger set by a previous Legislature. As a result of the 5% growth from the bottom the recession, the top tax rate was reduced from 5.5 to 5.25% last year, even though the revenue was lower than when the trigger was set. Tax triggers that automatically ratchet down the top income tax rate are opposed byOklahoma’s business, civic, and educational leaders as the Legislature is locking the state into a tax cut without knowing the needs or funding or sources available in the future. Once cut, it is very unlikely that taxes could be raised again, as state question 640 mandated that any tax increase must pass either a 75 percent vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people. However, tax cuts can be passed by a simple majority in both houses, which means that tax cuts are easy to make but tax increases, no matter how badly needed, are unlikely to be passed.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Note added 5/25 /2012: The Tulsa World announced today that the tax cut plan is dead for the year but the governor has sworn she will revive it again next year. It is not clear whether reason prevailed or whether squabbling about the tax cuts being too much or not enough kept the cuts from passing. The budget did pass, however, it left many state budgets that cover core services about what they were in 1998. You may wish to check here to see if any among your  state officials and legislators  have signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.

Poultry, Arsenic, and the Scenic Illinois River

Mon ,07/03/2011

The quality of the scenic Illinois River in Oklahoma is threatened by pollution from Arkansas’ poultry industry. A lawsuit to stop the pollution seemed certain to win, but it may be derailed by a huge influx of money into the recent Oklahoma elections.

A writer in India, Pabitra Mukhopadhyay, wrote an excellent article (1) explaining how arsenic in some wells in India were poisoning those who drank from them. He asked that I write an article explaining the chemistry of arsenic and how it might get into the groundwater. (2) A comment on that article suggested another possible source that I missed. Roxarsone, which has arsenic as the active ingredient, is often used to treat parasites in poultry and poses a risk to the environment. (3) The arsenic eventually ends up in the chicken droppings and, if disposed of improperly, in water supplies. That is probably not the source of the arsenic in India, but it may have implications for a lawsuit about the water quality of the Illinois River in Oklahoma.

The Illinois River begins in the Ozark Mountains in Northwestern Arkansas and flows through the scenic hills of Northeastern Oklahoma. It is a scenic river because of its sparkling clear water and the steep bluffs, rock formations, and large old trees along its banks. It is a favorite for water sports, fishing, camping, and canoeing and is considered a valuable resource for Northeastern Oklahoma. A dam built across the river forms Tenkiller Lake, one of the clearest and deepest lakes in Oklahoma and the water supply for many Oklahoma towns. Both the river and the lake have beauty and economic value to the state of Oklahoma and great efforts have been taken to ensure that the quality of the water remains high. This has caused contention with the state of Arkansas that has had a profound affect on the politics of Oklahoma.

Lawsuits: As the population of  Northwestern Arkansas has grown, the amount of pollution entering the river has also grown, particularly the nutrients  that causes algae growth and degradation of the river. High levels of nutriets and warm summer temperatures favor the growth of  blue-green algae, a type which is toxic.  In 1977, Oklahoma formed the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission to see that the Rivers in Oklahoma retain their scenic and economic value. The Commission tried negotiating with the cities and businesses in Arkansas to reduce their pollution. Some progress was made but the amount of phosphate and nitrate entering the river continued to grow. Finally, a lawsuit was filed in 1986 to stop upstream sources from polluting the river as it flows into Oklahoma. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling in Arkansas v. Oklahoma (1992), the Supreme court upheld Oklahoma’s water quality standards and ruled that the water quality standards of the downstream state must be implemented by the upstream state. (4) This established a very important principle as almost everyone lives downstream from someone.

After the 1992 ruling, the Scenic River Commission was successful in negotiating with the point sources, mostly upstream businesses and municipalities, to reduce pollution entering the river. However, the amount of pollution in the river continued to grow, mostly from non-point sources related to agricultural use. Northwestern Arkansas has become one of the largest poultry producing areas in United States. The litter from the industry has been disposed of by spreading it on farmland, and nitrates and phosphates from it eventually finds its way into the water and into Illinois River. Oklahoma has not been able to negotiate with the chicken industry to reduce the amount of plant nutrients entering the river as the poultry industry says that the pollution is from many other sources. Finally, Drew Edmondson, the Attorney General  for the state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the poultry industry to settle the matter. It appears that the evidence and the case law is on the side of Oklahoma, but the case seems to hinge upon establishing whether the poultry industry can be cited as a major source of the pollution.

Arsenic: This is where the arsenic enters into the story. If Roxarsone were used by the poultry industry in Arkansas, then surely some of the arsenic would end up in the water along with the plant nutrients. If arsenic were found in the river then that would be a clear indication that the source was the poultry industry. I sent a request to the Oklahoma Department of Water Quality asking if the water had been tested for arsenic. Here is the reply:

“You are correct in that arsenic compounds are sometimes added to chicken feeds, and as such, have the potential to show up in streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater in watersheds where chicken litter has been spread on the land surface.

Unfortunately, the poultry lawsuit that you referred to has not been resolved. It is my understanding that they did sample for arsenic as part of the suit, but that data is not readily available. This data collection was not completed by a state agency, so we don’t really have access to it. However, even if I had the data, I probably wouldn’t be able to share it with you until such a time as the lawsuit has resolved.”

Oklahoma Politics: Drew Edmondson, the Atty. Gen. of Oklahoma who filed the lawsuit, resigned last year to run for governor. He lost in the Democratic primary, partly because the poultry industry contributed heavily to his Democratic opponent and led a campaign to paint him as “anti-business”. The poultry industry then donated generously to the Republican candidates as they considered them to be friendlier toward their interests. The Republican candidates won the races for governor and attorney general.  Scott Pruitt, the new Attorney General, who received $15,000 in donations from the poultry industry, said he planned to review the case. The closing arguments in the poultry lawsuit were made before he took office, but it remains to be seen how actively he will defend the case or if he will find a reason to derail it. The new Governor, Mary Fallin, also plans to review the poultry lawsuit and she has proposed slashing the budget of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and consolidating it with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. These, they say, are just budgetary decisions and have nothing to do with the poultry company donations.  It remains to be seen how avidly they will pursue environmental issues in the state.

(1) http://water.thinkaboutit.eu/think5/post/the_water_of_death/

(2) http://jcmooreonline.com/2011/01/31/arsenic-and-the-water-of-death/

(3) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409115746.htm

(4) http://www.illinoisriver.org/CEDocuments/Downloads_GetFile.aspx?id=121203&fd=0

(C) 2011 J.C. Moore

V  Share This