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The following is an op-ed from Ron Suttles, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma. Suttles is retired and served as the Natural Resources Section Head for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
In my work as an environmental biologist, I’ve been involved in investigating hundreds of fish kills, chemical spills and other environmental damage. I’ve seen first-hand the damage that can be done to Oklahoma’s natural resources, and that’s one of the reasons why I oppose State Question 777.
We all have a responsibility to protect those natural resources — our water, air, soil and more — for future generations. As a biologist, it was my task to investigate pollution problems, find the guilty parties and help ensure they were held responsible for damage to Oklahoma’s fish and wildlife.
By making it almost impossible for Oklahoma to respond if there is a problem involving agriculture, SQ777 is asking Oklahoma citizens to essentially give up their right to have the legislature do its job and represent us. So if, in the future, a problem involving agriculture needs to be addressed, our legislature will be handcuffed. This will severely limit our ability to protect our natural resources.
SQ 777 would prohibit the people of Oklahoma from regulating one industry: corporate agriculture. No other industry in Oklahoma has a constitutional exemption from legislative oversight.
Farming is vital to Oklahoma’s economy, and I’ve known and worked with a lot of great farmers. In some of my investigations for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, in cooperation with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, I found that small farmers were valuable natural resource allies and were usually among those harmed by pollution. In fact, it was small farmers concerns about pollution from large hog operations that helped Oklahoma move toward more effective and needed regulation of that industry.
In the Illinois River, we’ve seen the effects of agricultural pollution and its impact on water quality and, by extension, its impact on fishing and recreation. During my 35 year career, I was told repeatedly in private by corporate and industry representatives, that when it came to environmental compliance and pollution controls, “We will only do what we have to do. If we don’t have to do it, my company won’t do it”. Without the ability to invoke accountability, when warranted, Oklahoma will lose on all fronts.
Corporations based outside our borders won’t be as concerned with protecting Oklahoma’s water, wildlife, lands or our citizen’s rights as we are. That holds true whether you are an angler, hunter, outdoors enthusiast or farmer. We all have an interest in ensuring that Oklahoma’s streams and lakes are clean and healthy.
Decisions that affect Oklahoma should be made by Oklahomans in Oklahoma. Vote “no” on SQ 777 and protect your water, your rights and those of all Oklahoma citizens.