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Many legislators paid lip service to going 'green,' but did they actually do anything?


Carol Cole-Frowe July 15th, 2010

Oklahoma legislators may talk a "green" game, but when it came to passing legislation, it was a mixed bag.Bud Scott, executive director and lobbyist for the Oklahoma chapter of Sierra Club, said the i...

Oklahoma legislators may talk a "green" game, but when it came to passing legislation, it was a mixed bag.

Bud Scott, executive director and lobbyist for the Oklahoma chapter of Sierra Club, said the irony is that the last two sessions, there was a constant drumbeat in the Legislature that the state needed to be more "green."

"When it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, this is what happens: There's a lot of talk, but not much action," Scott said.

But several legislators who authored bills on a number of "green" subjects might beg to differ.

Scott outlined several of the bills that the club supported or opposed at the recent Oklahoma Sustainability Network's annual conference at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Here's a sampling of them:

Two-year tax credit moratoriums on several key programs were passed through 2012 with Senate Bill 1267. The tax credit halt includes contributions to the Energy Conservation Assistance Fund, electric generation from zero-emission facilities, manufacturers of small wind turbines, energy efficient residential construction and finished products from qualified recycling facility manufacturers.

Renewable energy was the focus of two bills that passed into law.

House Bill 3028, or the Oklahoma Energy Security Act, was sponsored by House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, and Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City. It sets a goal of using renewable energy and energy efficiency to equal 15 percent of total energy capacity by 2015. It also sets a goal to use natural gas to power fossil-fueled electric generation through 2020 and to build compressed natural gas, or CNG, filling stations every 100 miles.

With HB 3028, Oklahoma became one of 35 states with either goals or mandated standards on renewable energy, Benge said.

"A mandate would not be politically palatable at all," he said. "There's nothing binding; no penalties involved."

Benge said Oklahoma has a real opportunity to be a leader in renewable and clean energy because of its natural resources of wind and natural gas.

Renewable energy got another boost with passage of Senate Bill 2124, by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma. SB 2124 uses the Quality Jobs Act to expand financial incentives for creating jobs in the solar industry, much as was done in the wind industry in the 2009 session.

"Solar seems to be rapidly growing (in Oklahoma)," Hickman said, noting that Tinker Air Force Base has a big solar project under way.

He said he hopes solar would provide some excellent jobs for rural Oklahomans, similar to what the wind industry has accomplished.

The Legislature also passed the Eastern Red Cedar Initiative, or House Bill 2686, sponsored by Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, Rep. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, and Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha.

It's been estimated that Oklahoma loses $202 million annually to Eastern red cedar infestation. The pesky trees spread at a rate of about 700 acres per day and result in losses of grazing lands and wildlife habitat. They also cause a fire hazard and drink up water resources.

HB 2686 brings together property owners with those who are willing to harvest the tree for its oil and wood, which can be used for mulch and to create lawn furniture. The bill also created a registry for property owners and designated the trees as biofuel.

Nuclear energy is either green or not green depending on who's talking. Several bills addressed nuclear energy.

House Bill 1750 offered advanced cost recovery and incentives for nuclear energy development, but it failed to pass.

Its author, Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, said he plans to reintroduce it next session if he's re-elected.

Scott said the Sierra Club opposes nuclear energy.

"You could build two billion megawatts of wind generation for the same amount as a nuclear plant," Scott said.

Martin said he likes nuclear energy because it provides high quality jobs and is emission-free, and he believes it is cheaper to produce in the long run.

"It seemed to be a win-win on multiple fronts," Martin said. "I wasn't sure what kind of reception I'd get from environmentalists. It was a mixed bag."

Martin, who advocates doing more to develop wind energy production and the use of natural gas in vehicles, noted there are 31 states with nuclear power plants.

"I see it as a viable base-load power generator," he said. "Inexpensive, reliable and safe power."

Martin said the state could model its nuclear waste disposal after France, which has more than 50 nuclear power plants.

Senate Bill 1668 would have authorized municipal power authorities to purchase nuclear energy and invest in a nuclear facility. It was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry.

"While nuclear power may hold great promise for Oklahoma in the future, there are still many unanswered questions about its impact on the state energy market and its consumers. Section 2 of this legislation would authorize actions that could serve as incentives for the construction of a nuclear power plant," said Henry in a statement to Oklahoma Gazette. "It would be more appropriate for the state to conduct an intensive study of nuclear power and such incentives before it proceeds any further."

Scott said SB 1668 "flies in the face of Oklahoma's proposed energy policy."

Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, authored House Bill 3243, which would have prevented enforcement of federal environmental regulations in Oklahoma. It was paired with House Bill 3219, authored by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, which would have made it a misdemeanor for a state employee to enforce the federal environmental regulations.

"Thankfully, it failed," Scott said.

On the sustainable agriculture front, legislators passed House Bill 3015, or the Healthy Cornerstores Act, authored by Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, and Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City. The bill provides low-interest loans up to $350,000 to vendors marketing healthy local foods in under-served areas.

"A shout out to local food stores," Scott said of the legislation.

The Legislature also passed House Bill 2846, which allows cities to develop regional transportation authorities, with a goal of improving mass transportation. "Carol Cole-Frowe

top photo
A wind farm near Weatherford photo/Shannon Cornman
bottom photo This pressurized water reactor nuclear power plant is located near Russellville, Ark., in one of 31 states with nuclear power plants. Photo/Bob Webster
 
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