This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Spinning The Budget Cuts

This is (a) low budget artwork by Duncan Hull on Flickr The Commons

I’m sure some will see this argument as trivial, but Gov. Mary Fallin’s praise of next year’s fiscal year state budget seemed overly hyperbolic and ignored a couple of key points.

In a June 1 news release about the recent legislative session, Fallin noted the $7.1 billion approved budget was “a fiscally responsible blueprint.” She also made sure everyone knew just how much money is going to education in Oklahoma:

I’m proud legislators and I were able to pass a budget in challenging times that shields common education, our largest and one of our most important expenses, from budget cuts. Under this budget, approximately 51 cents of every dollar appropriated by state government will continue to go toward education. . . .

I’m assuming that “51 cents of every dollar” has clear evidence behind it, but what Fallin doesn’t mention in the news release is that Oklahoma from 2008 to 2014 cut education funding by 23.6 percent, the most in the nation. Shielding our K through 12 educational system from budget cuts is a lot different than really investing in education and raising teacher salaries from their dismal levels. Those low salaries have helped lead to a teacher shortage here. Fallin also mentions agencies that received funding boosts, but the budget also slashed some agencies by 7.25 percent and cut higher education by 3.5 percent, which could lead to tuition hikes. The budget also uses one-time money to make ends meet and that portends a potential for another budget shortfall crisis again next year.

I realize Fallin’s statement was typical rah rah, but it’s just this type of perfunctory rhetoric that inhibits change in how we fund the state’s most important core services.

I went through the release fairly thoroughly and even did a word search of “tax,” and I could find no mention of the income tax cut from 5.25 to 5 percent that is going into effect this coming January because of a flawed budget forecast triggering system. Some estimate that cut will cost the state more than $50 million this coming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the state is cutting higher education, slashing funding elsewhere and making a big deal out of the fact it didn’t cut common education. All that is part of the state’s “fiscally responsible blueprint.” Right.

Again, I understand that some end-of-the-legislative-session praising is customary, especially when you’re the de facto Republican Party leader in a state government completely dominated by Republicans, but Fallin puts an overly joyful spin on budget cobbled together with cuts and one-time money sources. That’s the reality.

State Law Now Prohibits City Fracking Bans

Fracking In Karnes County by Sean Paul Kelley on Flickr The Commons

The new law prohibiting cities from banning fracking within their jurisdictions violates the conservative ideology of promoting local government control and benefits oil and gas companies over the interests of homeowners and other residents.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 809 into law Friday. It’s a bill that ensures oil and gas companies can drill within the limits of a municipality even if the people who live in that municipality don’t want them to do so. It other words, it takes away the right of individual citizens to protect their quality of life and personal welfare.

The bill came after the city of Denton, Texas voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their city last year and as some people in Stillwater apparently contemplated a ban there. It was a preemptive strike by a Republican-dominated state legislature and government, but it hardly reflects the conservative mantra of individual determination.

In a news release, Fallin said the bill reaffirms “the Corporation Commission as the sole regulator of Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry,” noting the bill “prohibits municipalities from issuing moratoriums or bans on drilling while preserving their ability to adopt reasonable ordinances, rules and regulations concerning traffic issues, noise, fencing requirements and placing of drilling rigs.”

The basic official argument is that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission provides a needed consistency when it comes to drilling regulations that individual cities can’t provide. In her release, Fallin even mentioned how the commission was looking into the link between wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process and the dramatic surge in seismic activity here.

But that won’t mean much to homeowners suffering through the noise and traffic of a nearby fracking rig.

It might well be true that smaller cities lack a certain expertise in the engineering underlying the fracking process and its impact on the surrounding environment, but that simply doesn’t apply to a university city, such as Stillwater, or, say, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. City officials and staff in those places either possess the knowledge or know where to seek the knowledge about fracking.

Centralizing regulations is problematic as well. An oil and gas company, for example, recently submitted a plan to frack near Lake Hefner, one of Oklahoma City’s main water supplies. The company withdrew the proposal because of a public outcry. This new law would seemingly make it more difficult to stop such projects under this philosophy of centralization.

Conservatives often cite “local control” and “individual rights” as values they support and bemoan what they see as a centralized, overreaching federal government. This bill contradicts those positions. If people in a city want to retain a certain quality of life and ban fracking near their homes, then let them do so. There remain plenty of places to frack for gas in this country.

As the country is discovering, so-called energy independence comes at a high cost, which includes earthquakes here and, as some environmentalists have long argued, water pollution. While the energy industry is vital to the state’s economy, there’s a breaking point in which its negative environmental impact outweighs the benefits. I think people are waking up to this basic point, especially in places like Texas and Oklahoma, which have experienced a fracking boom in recent years.

In the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into underground rock formations that create fissures releasing gas and oil. The wastewater from that process is then injected again by high pressure into underground storage wells. Scientists now believe that it’s the wastewater injection well process that is triggering the surge in earthquakes here. Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in 2014 in the number of earthquakes registering 3.0 magnitude or higher.

The fracking boom here and elsewhere, often draped in the patriotic and geo-political language of “energy independence,” as I’ve mentioned, and “freedom” from the Middle East, is used by oil and gas companies to push against regulations. But the real cost of this country’s fracking boom is now becoming clear, and it’s happening, of course, on the local level where the environmental evidence mounts.

Can Oklahoma Even Prepare For Global Warming?

A Global Warming by David Jacobs on Flickr The Commons

As I mentioned in my last post, a scientific argument has been made that global warming has exacerbated the rainfall amounts leading to recent destructive flooding in Oklahoma and Texas.

Even Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” has weighed in with this tweet, “Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change.” Other weather experts have discussed the issue publicly as well.

Basically, the air is warmer so it can hold more moisture. This has led to record rainfall amounts and major flooding in Oklahoma. In a more technical sense, El Niño, a part of a warm ocean band in the Pacific Ocean, is strengthening right now. Global warming exacerbates its effect, which has brought rain and misery here to Oklahoma. Global warming isn’t necessarily causing the rainfall. It’s just making it more extreme.

Many right-wingers, of course, dismiss this basic fact, but it’s really fundamental and not difficult to understand. For years, climatologists have warned that global warming will create severe weather events. What’s difficult for some to grasp is that these weather events can be dramatically oppositional. Thus, years of crop-destroying drought can be suddenly replaced with a month or two of crop-destroying rain. The POINT is the extreme swing in weather conditions.

What the global warming deniers will argue is that those of us who believe in basic science blame every major event on climate change. This generalization is simply not true. The deniers often lack a larger perspective. There’s been excessive rainfall in Oklahoma and Texas this month, but there’s also been a major heat wave in India at the same time. My point is that global warming is a planetary phenomenon and should always be considered in that context. At the same time people are suffering here because of flooding, people are suffering elsewhere in the world because of heat and lack of rainfall.

The cause of rapid and increasing global warming, according to the vast majority of climate scientists, is manmade carbon dioxide emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and gas. This accelerates the greenhouse effect in which planet surface radiation is re-radiated back to the surface by the upper atmosphere. This acceleration heats up the planet to dangerous levels, leading to arctic ice melting and rising sea levels. This impacts weather patterns, creates weather catastrophes and threatens coastal communities through erosion.

Human inaction on significantly decreasing carbon emissions is now a given as long as politicians such as Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe have major influence on the issue, and increasingly climatologists are taking a preparedness stance. In other words, extreme weather events are obviously in our future so how do we prepare? Is it even possible to prepare?

Bill Nye gets it right. I’ve heard no real, extended discussion of global warming from our local television weather forecasters during the recent stormy weather. In a weather-extreme place like Oklahoma, this is unfortunate and tragic.

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