Arkansas Attorney General Takes Water Quality Battle to U.S. Supreme Court

Article excerpt

The poultry industry is running the Arkansas state government, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Thursday, after Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe asked the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to sue the Sooner State.

Edmondson said Beebe's filing is just the latest in a string of assaults he has faced from the poultry industry since June, when Edmondson filed a lawsuit against eight Arkansas poultry companies - including the world's largest, Tyson Foods Inc. - claiming the companies are discharging chicken litter into the Illinois River in excess of what Oklahoma's water quality standards and federal environmental law allow.

Beebe accused Oklahoma of trying to impose its environmental laws on Arkansas, to the detriment of one of Arkansas's biggest economic drivers - the state's $2 billion poultry industry.

Oklahoma seeks to impose its own laws and regulations on economic activity and citizens located within Arkansas' borders, reads Beebe's filing. Agriculture is a primary stimulus of economic growth in Arkansas, making up nearly 11 percent of its gross state product. The poultry industry alone contributes greatly to this output.

In 2001, the poultry industry provided more than 50,000 jobs in Arkansas, paid $1.21 billion in wages, and exerted a $1.68 billion impact on Arkansas' economy, according to the filing.

By the plain language of its complaint, Oklahoma seeks to significantly alter agricultural practices throughout the Illinois River Watershed region, including those practices conducted within the borders of Arkansas, reads the filing. As demonstrated by its action in the federal district court, Oklahoma aims directly to regulate lawful commercial activity within Arkansas's borders, as a solution to its alleged pollution problems.

Edmondson said he was not surprised by Beebe's filing.

We have known for years that no bit of environmental legislation gets passed in Arkansas unless Tyson and their buddies sign off on it, said Edmondson. We have known for years that big poultry runs government in the state of Arkansas, but they don't run government in the state of Oklahoma, and they don't run the federal courts.

Oklahoma has 60 days in which to respond, and Edmondson said his office intends to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court has a number of options. The court could chose to enjoin Oklahoma's lawsuits, ending Edmondson's legal battle with the poultry companies. The court could allow the case to proceed, allowing Edmondson to fight for enforcement of both federal and Oklahoma environmental standards. Or, the court could allow the case to proceed addressing the federal standards only.

We anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will deal with this issue and allow the litigation to proceed, and we expect to prevail on that litigation when the time comes, said Edmondson.

In his filing, Beebe said the dispute between the states should be handled through the Arkansas River Basin Compact, which has been in place since 1970 to address water quality issues for the rivers shared by Oklahoma and Arkansas.

It's my belief that if Mike Beebe were not running for governor, he wouldn't have done this, said Edmondson. …