Maybe Patty Eaton isn't the sort of person to say it this way, but
as Oklahoma's first cabinet secretary of the environment, it's pretty
quickly become clear to her that state environmental regulation is a
"I guess I've been surprised at the complexity of various rules
and regulations, and when you add to that all the various people
doing something in that area, it's no wonder there's confusion," said
Eaton, who is also the new executive director of the Oklahoma Water
"And it is bad," she said. "There's no question, it's a problem.
Now we just have to find a good, workable solution."
The "c" word - consolidation of environmental regulatory
functions now performed by eight state agencies - is among the top
three issues Eaton has identified as priorities during her first
weeks on the job.
A bill to do just that, House Bill 1506 by State Rep. Don
McCorkell, D-Tulsa, was sandbagged in the House Committee on Energy,
Environment and Natural Resources. Committee members voted for an
interim legislative study including members of that panel and the
corresponding Senate committee.
"One of the problems is that there are so many different
agencies, each one with a concern about what is going to happen in
their specific area, that it's hard to write one single piece of
legislation to deal with every one," said Eaton, a former water and
sewer commissioner for the City of Tulsa.
One way to address the reorganization might be to take it in
steps, spread over a period of up to two years, answering agency
concerns along the way, she said.
Asked for an example of an agency concern, Eaton said the water
resources board has a valid one.
"They feel the water resources board is responsible for
maintaining water quality in the state. That's one of their major
charges, and they do it very well," she said. "They have high
standards and strong enforcement. . ."
Eaton acknowledged that oil and gas producers were responsible
for a large part of the opposition to House Bill 1506.
"I would hate to see the whole idea die because of oil and gas,"
"I would like to see the plan move ahead, and with time, work
with the oil and gas producers and encourage them to join in.
"We probably don't need another study," Eaton said. "What we
need is a planning process. We need to say, `Okay, here's what's
going to happen. Now, how are we going to do this?' "
If a group is formed to meet during the legislative interim to
develop ways or strategies to combine the environmental regulatory
activities, then that's a task that needs doing, she said.
"Just to have a task force to say `Should we or shouldn't we,'
that's been done and the answer was, `it should,' " Eaton said.
Gov. Henry Bellmon during his term of office convened an
environmental concerns council, which recommended an environmental
reorganization. In addition, House Bill 1506 was the result of an
interim legislative study.
As for the current legislative session, Eaton said it would be
helpful if lawmakers could signal their intent to move in the
direction of reorganization.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Federation said it would mobilize for a
possible initiative petition drive on the issue. However, if the
Oklahoma Legislature passed a concurrent resolution in support of
consolidation, "it would send a message to the general public that
they support the idea and would obviate any need for a petition,"
Gov. David Walters continues to support consolidation, she said.
On another issue, Eaton said she sees the need for a statewide,
long-range plan for environmental policy. What she envisions is a
"living document - not something that you write and put on a shelf,
but something to be used as you make legislation and get new
business and industry, and is revised - a working document. …