By Lou Anne Wolfe
Journal Record Staff Reporter
Following a summer hiatus, the state legislative Environmental
Task Force met Wednesday for an update on the transfer of
Oklahoma environmental regulation into a new Department of
Many lobbyists, environmentalists and business representatives
attended the meeting, which was comparatively short and
uneventful. The panel will next meet on Oct. 27 at the Oklahoma
Bar Association auditorium, 1901 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Better state government responsiveness to pollution complaints
is a major objective of the reorganization, said Patricia Eaton,
environmental transition coordinator. A second major goal is for
Oklahoma to gain responsibility for enforcing certain federal
environmental regulations in the state, which currently is done
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The formal language for the second objective is "delegation of
responsibility for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination
System jurisdiction" from the EPA.
The Oklahoma Legislature this year passed a bill to
consolidate much of the environmental regulation now performed by
eight state agencies. House Bill 2227 was principally cothored by
Rep. Sid Hudson, D-Lawton, and Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington,
coairmen of the task force. The new Department of Environmental
Quality created by the bill will be official on Jan. 1, and the
transition period is under way.
Eaton, state secretary of the environment and the executive
director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, is overseeing the
transition. The law calls for a permanent executive director for
the department to be appointed by July 1 by the 13-member
Environmental Quality Board. Members of that board will be chosen
by the governor and will be subject to Senate confirmation.
The environmental quality department will use existing staff,
furniture and equipment "to the maximum extent possible," Eaton
said. Estimated budget for the fiscal year which begins July 1 is
$23.39 million, she said. Eaton stressed that the figure is
tentative, and is based on budgets of the divisions of the State
Department of Health and the water board, which are designated to
be moved to the new department.
Steve Thompson, director of the Oklahoma Department of
Pollution Control, said the transition group looking at how to
handle citizen complaints is working on a model where the
pertinent environmental division would initiate some action and
inform the citizens of it. When the pollution complaint was
resolved, the agency would be required to report it in writing to
the citizen who complained.
The new law requires state agencies involved in environmental
regulation to develop complaint resolution rules by Feb. 1.
A major hunk of the health department will move to the
environmental quality department. Included will be regulation of
clean air, public water supply, emergency response, solid waste,
hazardous waste, waste water, groundwater quality programsllhead
protection, Superfund, state environmental lab, county
sanitarians, occupational licensing, indoor air quality and