Response to Pitts

Article excerpt

The "Capitol Business" column by William O. Pitts in the March 15 issue of The Journal Record on the Environmental Audit Privilege Act was biased, slanted, inaccurate and generally sorry journalism. I take issue with it in virtually all regards.

To begin with, the objections voiced by the attorney general's office were not "quickly raised." We raised the same objections when this bill was last considered by the Legislature two years ago: Specifically, the thrust of the bill was to allow polluting industries to withhold information that potentially endangered the public and to escape sanctions for damaging the environment. I expressed those concerns to the Senate author and agreed to work with him to draft a version of the bill that met the expressed aims of the bill without jeopardizing the public.

My first question was "who wants this bill?" The answer given initially was that our public utilities wanted it. I suggested then that the bill be written only to apply to public utilities. That was rejected. My next question was "what problem are we trying to solve here?" The answer was to relieve business of vexatious lawsuits by private citizens -- that state agencies were not the problem. I suggested then that the bill be written only to apply to public utilities. That was rejected. I then asked for examples of vexatious lawsuits that had been filed. None were offered. Contrary to Pitts' assertion, I never consulted with trial lawyers on this bill -- not as a group nor with any individual trial lawyer. The AG is not anti big business -- another of Pitts' bald assertions. We declined to join the Justice Department in its lawsuits against Koch Industries -- twice. We struggled to settle pollution damage claims against Simmons over discharges into the waters of northeastern Oklahoma in order to avoid lawsuits, and were successful. To date we have not filed a single action against a public utility or oil company over spills or discharges. To the contrary, we have worked with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Water Resources Board, the Wildlife Department, and the Department of Environmental Quality to resolve claims of environmental damage in a cooperative manner to the maximum extent possible. …