Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workers Discuss Impact of Commission Cutbacks

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workers Discuss Impact of Commission Cutbacks

Article excerpt

By Ronda Fears Journal Record Staff Reporter Impact of intended budgetary cutbacks at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on pollution prevention and enforcement was a topic Monday of a special task force looking at reform of the agency.

It was the third meeting of the task force, which is comprised of 15 members from the oil and gas industry, Oklahoma Legislature, other government agencies and environmental concerns.

Task force Chairman William C. Liedtke III asked commission employees appearing before the group about the effects of previously announced budget cuts on attention afforded to environmental matters _ the established focus of the task force.

In late June, Commissioners Bob Anthony and J.C. Watts Jr. approved a directive to General Administrator Thadd Johnson to trim costs in line with a perceived $2.2 million revenue shortfall in order to operate on the appropriation set by the Legislature for the fiscal year which began July 1.

Those cost cuts include a reduction in force or layoffs.

Commissioner Bob Hopkins voted against the action, saying he was not convinced of a budget crunch.

Subsequently, the state employee's union called for a special legislative study of the commission's financial condition.

Commission employees in the legal division and oil and gas conservation division appeared before the task force Monday. While no specific budget cuts were identified in the legal division, there was outlined a 20 percent reduction in the amount of driving oil and gas field inspectors will do.

"I think we're doing the best we can with the resources we have," said Ben Jackson, deputy general counsel in charge of the oil and gas attorneys at the commission, who said a quarter of the cases filed at the commission annually, or about 300, are pollution enforcement cases.

"We're a very efficient department. There is no fat to cut." There has not been any personnel cutbacks announced in the general counsel division of the commission, but Jackson noted that the office is without a law clerk and shares a typing pool with other divisions. Too, he said there are no new purchases of books or computer equipment, and attorneys are not attending seminars unless paid for by themselves. Of about 15 attorneys in the general counsel division, five are assigned to oil and gas matters.

"Certainly, the delay in providing computer equipment has affected us," Jackson said.

He was asked to prepare an impact of budgetary constraints on the prosecution of oil and gas environmental cases as well as an estimate of an ideal budget request to meet needs of enforcing pollution regulations and preventing pollution from a legal aspect.

Bob Slaby, manager of field operations and in charge of field inspectors, said the 50 inspectors at the commission are already spread thin across the state but will have to cut mileage by 20 percent to meet budget cutbacks. …

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