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Inhofe EPW Theatrics

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Not that it’s anything new, but U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe issued a rather dramatic and hyperbolic statement related to a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing this week.

Inhofe, a member of the committee, addressed his remarks to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, complaining that the agency is “out of control.” Inhofe contends the EPA continues to “enact outlandish rules of obscene cost and harm to the economy . . .”

This is fairly typical rhetoric for Inhofe, who has based much of his Senate career on denying the reality of climate-change science and supporting the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry. Oil and gas interests have been Inhofe’s largest campaign donors through the years.

What makes it noteworthy, though, is that Inhofe is claiming that if Republicans gain a majority in the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, he will once again head the EPW Committee, which could be disastrous to the environment here and, really, throughout the world.

Inhofe’s statement argued rules governing emissions from power plants that use coal will result in lost jobs and higher prices, but these are tired and worn claims that simply ignore the impact and cost of pollution.

Inhofe claims the rules are just a part of the “ . . . EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels.” This is how the statement ends:

. . . EPA’s impact may be coal now, but we know it’s going to be natural gas next. Whether it’s hydraulic fracturing or methane emissions, the EPA is intent to carry out what the Sierra Club has named it’s “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign, just as the EPA did with Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. We in the Senate have been charged with stewarding this nation, which includes watching out for those who are most vulnerable. The elderly, the poor – these are the people who are most at risk from losing their homes or their health due to skyrocketing electricity bills, which is exactly what will happen under the EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels. It’s our job to watch out for them, and it just so happens that the entity we need to protect them from is a seemingly unlikely source – it’s President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Note the sanctimonious reference to the “elderly, the poor,” as if Inhofe has ever made their concerns and interests a real focus of his Senate political agenda. In fact, his political career has been rooted in helping the wealthy and privileged in our country at the expense of everyone else. Note, too, the standard GOP bashing of President Barack Obama. This type of political rhetoric and grandstanding doesn’t get more hollow than this.

Meanwhile, as Inhofe supposedly frets about the “elderly, the poor” in Washington, his home state of Oklahoma is experiencing a dramatic spike in earthquakes that has been tied to the hydraulic fracturing or fracking drilling process. For many parts of Oklahoma, daily earthquakes are just routine now. Oklahoma had the second highest number of earthquakes in the contiguous U.S. in 2013. Does anyone here think Inhofe will push for stronger regulations in the oil and gas drilling process to stop the earthquake surge here?

Pundits predict Inhofe will easily win reelection this November, and that’s not good for Oklahoma or the planet. If he does become chair of the EPW Committee, it will be even worse.

Common Core Spectacle

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The Common Core spectacle at the state Capitol is once again showing the wide schism in the Republican Party in Oklahoma.

On one side are the Republicans who oppose the uniformed K-12 educational standards that were initially adopted by 45 states. They are led at this point, it seems to me, by Gov. Mary Fallin who issued a recent statement in support of ditching Common Core standards for English, language arts and mathematics and developing new state standards.

After the Senate Education Committee voted to approve a bill that does just that, Fallin said:

As we work to increase classroom rigor and raise the academic bar in our schools, I have been clear that Oklahoma must take the lead in developing and implementing our own standards and assessments. To protect the principle of local control, and to resist federal overreach from Washington and the Obama administration, I signed last year an executive order outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments.

Note the anti-President Barack Obama and federal government rhetoric. In Oklahoma these days, that’s a clear political winner no matter what the issue or how much it’s stretched, especially in this case. Obama supports Common Core, but the federal government didn’t develop the standards. It was education leaders and the National Governors Association that did it.

On the other side of the issue on the Republican side are the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, an ultra-conservative publication. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman argued “ . . . opponents rarely criticize the actual standards. Most opposition is based on innuendo, conjecture, misinformation and disinformation.”

What gets lost in all the bickering over federal control are teachers and students.

Teachers here have prepared for months to implement the standards. If Oklahoma ends Common Core, all their work has gone for nothing. They will have to start over with new state standards. That will be demoralizing.

Students are left behind by sudden changes in curriculum and mixed messaging by authority figures over basic intellectual knowledge. They become political footballs tossed around by two GOP groups as the intraparty fighting continues over how best to criticize Obama rather than educate students.

Meanwhile, the GOP has allowed state funding to schools since 2008 to drop on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation.

Indiana has become the first state to stop implementing Common Core after signing on to the new standards, and other states, especially conservative states, will probably follow their example. With Fallin’s support, Oklahoma could easily follow Indiana’s example.

The idea that states shouldn’t share standards because of a presumed overarching federal control ignores globalization and the impact of the Information Age on the world’s knowledge base. We live in an extremely connected world these days. Isolation is really no longer an option. Oklahoma should always look elsewhere for standards that clearly work.

The idea that Oklahoma schools, in particular, should be “protected from federal interference,” as Fallin has argued when it comes to Common Core, doesn’t mean much when it comes to basic intellectual development of students. Does any Republican, including Fallin, really believe that the federal government is against students becoming proficient in math and English, that it will somehow interfere with that process?

But then it’s an election year, and this type of reductionist sloganeering works here.

State Needs Injection Well Moratorium

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Even as its own website, NewsOK.com, launches a page tracking earthquakes in a 400-mile radius around Oklahoma City, the editorial board of The Oklahoman continues to argue the science isn’t settled when it comes to linking injection wells to the dramatic surge in seismic activity here.

In other words, the state’s largest media company wants to use the earthquakes to attract readers and advertisers while not taking an active role in pushing state leaders to declare a moratorium on injection wells used in the oil and gas drilling process.

On Friday, NewsOK.com announced its new site tracking earthquakes right under an advertisement. It does actually map out the earthquakes rather than just supplying coordinates like the Oklahoma Geological Survey site, but any earthquake over 3.0 magnitude is going to receive wide media coverage anyway and so people can find out its location easily enough.

The big announcement was followed by a Sunday editorial that applauded the recent decision by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to require injection well operators collect daily information about their operations. But the editorial made this clear:

Whether the injection well-earthquake link is real isn’t a matter of “settled science.” Far from it. But enough cause for concern is extant that the rules make sense.

“Far from it”? Really?

And even if the science does get settled linking earthquakes to injection wells, that’s no big deal, according to the editorial, which claims:

We’ve said before that energy production is a messy business but nevertheless vital. Tradeoffs are inevitable. If the siting of injection wells is linked to earthquakes, this doesn’t mean no such wells can exist. It means the choice of location is more critical than previously thought.

The editorial, of course, fails to specifically mention any of the studies and reasoned arguments here and elsewhere that have linked earthquakes to injection wells. The issue is particularly pressing in California, which has a high rate of earthquakes each year.

In the oil and gas drilling process, which includes hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” leftover wastewater is injected in rock formations beneath the ground. It’s becoming increasingly clear the process can destabilize formations connected to fault lines and thus produce earthquakes.

The basic evidence is compelling. The state’s mini-boom in oil and gas drilling because of fracking has been accompanied by a dramatic surge in earthquakes, including a 5.7 magnitude temblor that struck near Prague in 2011 that damaged several buildings. Oklahoma was ranked second in the nation in the number of 3.0 magnitude or higher earthquakes—99—in the nation in 2013. There have been more than 30 earthquakes, most of them small, since Friday, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Given the number of earthquakes here in recent years, the scientific studies linking them to injection wells and the potential of property damage, personal injury and even loss of life, the most prudent action would be to place a moratorium of some type on injection wells here. That would give regulators, scientists and the oil and gas industry time to further study the issue. What’s for certain, however, is that it’s not in the interest of any private company to admit what they’re doing is producing earthquakes. That could create a financial liability issue.

The Oklahoman fails its readership as usual when it doesn’t allow sustained dissenting views to its ad nauseam worship of the oil and gas industry here. The fact NewsOK.com is employing typical salesmanship and hype to attract readers to its Oklahoma Earthquakes page just makes it even worse. Why not push to simply solve the problem instead of commercializing something that could lead to property damage and depreciation or, worse, bodily harm?

It should be noted The Oklahoman is owned by Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made a fortune in the oil business.

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