Anti-Science Bill On Senate Committee Agenda

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(Update: I've been told the bill will apparently now go to the Senate Education Committee.)

A House bill that, if signed into law, could lower the quality of scientific education in Oklahoma public schools has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee and was on its agenda for its meeting today.

House Bill 1674, dubbed the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” requires school districts to “create an environment” that would allow teachers to teach the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” The bill, which has passed the House, is considered by many state academics as a backdoor attempt to present creationism ideas as an alternative “scientific” theory to the theory of evolution in classrooms.

Normally, such a bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee, which has killed similar bills in the past. This year, however, it was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee. Political observers contend the full Senate will most likely vote to approve the bill and Gov. Mary Fallin will sign it into law if the rules committee approves it.

It cannot be understated that this bill will lower the quality of education here if some districts feel compelled to present the pseudo-science of intelligent design, which presents creationist ideas as fact. This will help to keep the state’s college graduation level low when compared to the national average as well because some students will be extremely unprepared for general science courses. The state will also garner negative national attention for trying to replace the scientific principle in schools with right-wing religious dogma.

The National Center for Science Education, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union are among those organizations that oppose the bill.

Do Injection Well Rules Go Far Enough?

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The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has passed new rules requiring companies to collect more data related to their wastewater injection wells in the state, but do they go far enough and will the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin even approve them?

The commission’s action came in response to the growing concern that the dramatic surge in earthquakes here in recent years is tied to the wells, which are used to dispose of wastewater in oil and gas drilling processes, including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

There is a growing scientific consensus that the surge in earthquakes here and in other states has been caused by the injection wells. In particular, studies have linked a 5.7 magnitude earthquake near Prague in 2011 to injection well activity. That earthquake damaged several buildings.

In the injection well process, the wastewater, which includes chemicals, is injected by high pressure into underground rock formations. Some scientists believe this can destabilize rock layers connected to fault lines and thus result in seismic activity. There have been hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years, most of them small. The state had the second highest number of earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher in 2013 in the contiguous United States.

Under the new rules passed Thursday, those companies operating wastewater injection wells in the state would have to maintain records of the daily amount of volume and pressure used in the disposal process. This information would have to be available for the commission. The intent is to determine the possible relationship between individual wells and particular earthquakes.

The action might be viewed as a first step, but some citizens and politicians in other states have called for a moratorium on injection wells as the link between them and earthquakes grows more apparent. Why can’t oil and gas companies simply find a different way to dispose of the wastewater produced by the mini-boom related to fracking? Why put lives and property at risk?

Will the new rules even be approved by the Republican-dominated legislature and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin? The oil and gas lobby in Oklahoma is a powerful force in Oklahoma politics. The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association didn’t protest the new rules, according to a media report, but nationwide industry officials have been reluctant to even discuss the issue in the past. Why would they ever want to admit culpability?

Michael Behar, writing in Mother Jones, reported last year that he encountered this reluctance when doing a story on the issue. Behar writes:

For its part, industry is doing its best to avoid discussing the issue publicly, even as its leading professional guild, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, recognized the matter was serious enough to call its first-ever meeting devoted to "injection induced seismicity." Held in September, the SPE's 115-member workshop sought to "better understand and mitigate potential risks." When I reached out to SPE coordinator Amy Chao, she told me, "I appreciate your interest but press is not allowed to attend in any fashion.”

The most prudent action would be to place a moratorium on injection wells in places that have seen a surge in earthquakes. The question comes down to this for state leaders: Are the profits of the oil and gas industry more important than the safety of citizens?

Obamascare Stories

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Oklahoma City's News 9 ran a story this week about the state’s low enrollment numbers in the Affordable Care Act exchange, but it failed to mention how much so-called “Obamacare” has been demonized by Republican state leaders and The Oklahoman editorial page.

In the story, reported by Dana Hertneky, one local insurance agent says, “ . . . there is a lot of fear and resistance” to signing up for insurance here under the ACA.

Well, why is there such fear and resistance? It seems obvious.

State Republican leaders from Attorney General Scott Pruitt to Gov. Mary Fallin have been outspoken critics of the ACA since it was signed into law. Pruitt has even filed a lawsuit against it. In editorial after editorial, The Oklahoman has relentlessly—on a weekly basis—used fear mongering, the language of crisis and rhetorical subterfuge to distort the basic facts about the ACA. The GOP nationally has used the ACA site rollout problems as a political cudgel against President Barack Obama.

All this, reported ad nauseam by the media here, means that many Oklahomans simply don’t realize the basic idea that they can now get health insurance and, in many cases, get government subsidies to pay for it. What they hear instead is that the world is coming to an end because everyone can now get health insurance.

A report shows that approximately 32,000 Oklahomans have signed up for insurance under the ACA even though some 600,000 residents are eligible, according to the News 9 story. It should be noted that News 9 has also participated in the avalanche of criticism leveled against the ACA.

What if Oklahoma had created its own exchange? What if state leaders, such as Fallin, were appearing in public service advertisements urging people to enroll in the program? Here’s another one: What if Thunder star Kevin Durant was appearing in a widely played commercial aired on game nights promoting the new insurance program.

My point is that many of our current state leaders are deliberately and through omission trying to sabotage what they derisively call Obamacare. The local media, and especially The Oklahoman, are complicit in this tragedy, and it is a tragedy because thousands of people in Oklahoma are going without adequate health care because of it.

So far, 4.2 million people have signed up on the health insurance exchanges throughout the country and with the deadline for enrollment looming that number will surely rise.

Republicans nationally are banking on the fact that opposition to the ACA will help them in elections next November, but that could wind up to be a major error in political calculation. It’s a long time between now and November, and as the days go on, more and more people will get enrolled under the ACA system. Meanwhile, word will get out eventually, even here, that affordable health insurance is now available for the uninsured.

Instead of just reporting “Obamascare” stories maybe local media outlets here could also help people get better health care by simply showing them how to enroll for insurance under the ACA.

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