Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

SAT 3-1-6 EDITORIAL >> Oklahoma vs. Arkansas

Arkansas lost another battle in the great border war with Oklahoma over chicken litter this week when the U. S. Supreme Court refused to settle the dispute itself. But let us be more precise. Poultry companies and Attorney General Mike Beebe lost the battle. Arkansas could even be a winner.

The two states — rather, their attorneys general — have been arguing for at least four years over the pollution of the Illinois River, which drains big swaths of Washington and Benton counties and then courses into Oklahoma, where it is a source of drinking water. The river is the source for Tenkiller Lake, the water supply for Tahlequah, Okla.

The dispute is akin to our own quarrels in central Arkansas with Deltic Timber Corp., which wants to develop an expensive subdivision on the slopes above Lake Maumelle, from whence comes our pristine water. So we may feel some kinship with Oklahomans who want their water protected just like we do. The problem is that a state line separates them from the largest source of the problem, the refuse from chicken growers that is spread on the slopes of northwest Arkansas to make hay and other animal feed crops grow more lushly. The runoff from excess litter sends heavy amounts of phosphorous and other compounds into creeks and into the Illinois River. The fertilizer causes heavy algae growth in the streams and the lake into which they run, depleting oxygen, killing aquatic life and polluting water supplies.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who we are led to believe by Arkansas officials and industry people likes to play to the peanut gallery, sued eight poultry companies, including the giant Tyson Foods, Inc., in federal district court in Oklahoma. He maintains that the big companies and their growers are violating federal and state pollution laws and wants the federal court to restrain them. The big companies and the growers claim that Oklahoma wants to put them out of business.

Gov. Huckabee and Attorney General Beebe have entered the lists for the industry. Beebe maintains that he represents the farmers and the people of Arkansas, not the industry. Well, of course. He’s fighting to save the Arkansas economy and to protect the “sovereignty” of Arkansas. The issue of state sovereignty has had a tainted history from its use to protect slavery and our own peculiar apartheid.

Beebe pursued a novel remedy. He asked the Supreme Court to block the Oklahoma lawsuit by using its power to resolve disputes between two states by conducting the trial itself. The court unanimously declined.

We are saps for the home team as much as anyone. We pull for the Arkansas teams and try to be philosophical about the peccadilloes of Arkansas politicians when they seek national office, including Mike Huckabee. But it is an embarrassment that our own laws and our regulatory agencies are far more tolerant of abuse of our land, water and air than those of other states.
Edmond’s suit should go to trial and let us see what evidence he can adduce that the companies are imperiling the health of Oklahomans. If they are, an injunction is proper, and the companies are not going to move their operations to other states. Where, pray tell? More likely, the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari will force Oklahoma and the industry to negotiate a settlement that will save the day for Oklahomans and Arkansas farmers.