By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma Chapter of Sierra Club has released its 2016 Legislative Scorecard authored by Johnson Bridgwater, the organization’s director and state lobbyist.
“Overall, we were pleased that the worst legislation from an environmental perspective failed to make any progress,” Bridgwater said. “But we also saw things like the loss of the Scenic River Commission, as it was dissolved and placed under the Grand River Dam Authority—for the sake of $265,000. Time will tell if GRDA makes good on its promise to honor the Scenic River Act, and many of us will be watching closely.
“People need to understand that lobbying can be done by anyone who can talk or write and has elected officials they wish to impact,” Bridgwater said.
The Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter is the only environmental organization in Oklahoma with a full-time lobbyist dedicated to environmental issues.
“Due to some egregious acts by lobbyists without ethics, the word ‘lobbyist’ has become a dirty word, but the truth is that lobbyists play a vital role in providing information to elected officials—and Sierra Club is dedicated to basing its work on facts and figures, not rhetoric and misinformation,” Bridgwater continued.
“We also work hard to remain non-partisan, something that has become very hard to do with such partisan politics playing out at our State Capitol. Unfortunately, others don’t want to play by those rules, and we saw completely false attacks made against wind energy this session. We worked very hard distributing the truth about wind energy this year, and it paid off.
“2016 saw the budget take center-stage as our State faced a massive budget crisis, and Sierra Club notes that sadly, once again, the agencies responsible for regulating and managing Oklahoma’s environment were deeply slashed,” he said.
According to Bridgwater, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), and the Scenic Rivers Commission have all been impacted.
“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission remained flat— but given the OCC (Oklahoma Corporation Commission) itself has repeatedly stated it does not have what it needs to fully address Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis, Sierra Club considers this one of the worst failures of the budget.
The issue of the recent onslaught of earthquakes in Oklahoma due to the injection of wastewater during the process known as fracking is of extreme concern to the organization.
“All people hear on the news is that earthquake numbers are dropping and that the OCC has made deep cuts to injection volumes. Well, I am sorry to share that we still experience nearly daily 3.0+ earthquakes, and the OCC has still not greatly reduced volumes to all of the wells involved in this issue.”
The United States Geological Survey tracks Oklahoma’s daily earthquake record online.
In May 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2562 that was lobbied for by state oil and gas groups. The bill made permanent a generous tax incentive for new oil and gas drilling.
Bridgwater contends that the Oklahoma State Budget collapse was a direct result of what he refers to as “bad lobbying.”
A recent investigative report written by Luc Cohen and Joshua Schneyer for Reuters New Service criticized the fact that, “when the oil boom went bust, Oklahoma protected drillers and squeezed schools.”
“The report indicates that Oklahoma had an opportunity to not only balance its State budget with oil and gas boom years, but as states like Texas and North Dakota have shown, could have turned Oklahoma into one of the best-funded states in the nation,” Bridgwater said.
“Instead, our educational system, and others like mental health and child welfare, have now fallen into near ruin as the result of lobby victories for the oil and gas industry in recent years.
“Read the research, read the journalism– the facts are clear,” Bridgewater said.
The full Sierra Club Legislative Scorecard may be viewed online.
The Oklahoma Chapter has members in 72 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, which is comprised of constituents from almost every legislative district. The organization maintains a Legislative Committee and relies on the efforts of its numerous volunteer members to help in its political efforts each session.
The Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter offers members and non-members lobby training each year.
To get involved or for more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/oklahoma.