In The Know: Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

In an e-mail obtained via a public records request, a University of Oklahoma dean said that oil tycoon Harold Hamm was pushing the university to fire scientists who were investigating links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. An oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, which some say contributes to earthquakes. The well’s owner, New Dominion, has sought state approval to make it shallower, but they still deny any connection between their wells and earthquakes. New Dominion faces at least two lawsuits over the earthquake, and one of them is before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

KFOR examined the legal costs paid by taxpayers of defending numerous bills passed by the Legislature that were later ruled unconstitutional. The Tulsa World warned against a bill that would eliminate income taxes for people moving into Oklahoma counties where population has been declining. A very similar tax break in Kansas has not increased migration to declining counties. The Legislature sent to Governor Fallin a bill to eliminate a property tax exemption for new wind farms beginning in 2017.

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are still trying to hash out a budget that is expected to make more cuts to nearly every state agency. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis wrote that lawmakers have shuffled money around while slashing taxes for years, and now we’re seeing the real costs come out in damage to education, health, mental health, social services and public safety. The Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges.

Oklahoma Watch reported that a large percentage of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women show symptoms of PTSD due to emotional and sexual abuse. Preliminary results show that 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the third grade after scoring “unsatisfactory” on the state’s reading exam. The okeducationtruths blog looked at how media and the state Department of Education differed in portraying the results.

Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations will be in Oklahoma City this week for the Southern Republicans Leadership Conference. A U.S. Supreme Court decision could make Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions because they are dominated by existing members of the industry they are regulating. Oklahoma Policy Institute announced that Andrew Tevington, who was a top advisor to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, who served 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to our Board of Directors.

The Number of the Day is 63.4% – the percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015. It was the worst loss in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab looks at how cities and states have shot far past Congress in successfully raising the minimum wage.

In The News

Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation. Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, is a major donor to the university, which is the home of the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Read more from Bloomberg Business.

Disposal well near epicenter of Okla’s biggest quake was too deep

The oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, a mistake that some think can lead to earthquakes. New Dominion LLC, the Tulsa-based producer that owns the well, recently sought and received state approval to make the well shallower by “plugging it back.” But New Dominion said that doesn’t mean its Wilzetta disposal well is connected to the magnitude-5.7 earthquake in November 2011 near Prague, Okla.

Read more from Environment & Energy News.

Are Oklahoma taxpayer dollars getting wasted on unconstitutional bills?

It’s taxpayer money that won’t go to your children’s education. It won’t fix the streets you drive on, and it won’t make your family safer. Instead, it’s tax dollars going toward the legal defense of bills passed by our state legislature. ‘It`s not our job to pass constitutional laws,’ if I had a quarter every time I heard that in the last 7 years that I`ve been here, I`d be pretty well off,” says Rep. Cory Williams.

Read more from KFOR.

Legislation aims at throwing tax incentives at people willing to live in unattractive counties

Here’s a bad idea: If people don’t want to live someplace — if they can’t make a living there or they just can’t imagine taking their families to such an environment — let’s have the state pay them to move there. It’s ridiculous on its face, and it’s the premise of House Bill 1747, which is dangerously close to becoming state law.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: ‘Rural Opportunity Zones’ aren’t helping Kansas from the OK Policy Blog

Oklahoma property tax exemption program benefits power plants, wind farms

When natural gas power plant construction boomed in Oklahoma a decade ago, it was aided by a generous state tax incentive that exempted local property taxes for five years. Lawmakers dropped electric power plants from the ad valorem tax exemption program in 2009. But with the rapid expansion of wind farms for electricity generation in the past few years, elected officials are again taking a closer look at the property tax incentive.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma lawmakers discuss budget cuts

Key players representing the Oklahoma House, Senate and the governor’s office have been working late hours trying to hash out a budget that covers a $611 million funding shortfall. Negotiations were expected to continue with the goal of reaching a budget deal that could be presented to lawmakers as early as Monday. The legislative session is required to end by May 29, but lawmakers were hoping to hear the final gavel at least a week early.

Read more from NewsOK.

State budget writers try to pass the buck (Capitol Updates)

The budget process is winding its way toward an announcement that a “budget deal has been reached.” My guess is legislative leaders and the governor have decided to patch together a budget, by putting lipstick on a pig as the saying goes, and get out of town as soon as possible. At this point in the session there’s not much else to do.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Senate overrides Gov. Fallin’s veto of salary bill

The Oklahoma Senate on Friday overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges. The vote was 36-0 to override the veto of Senate Bill 549. Only 32 votes were required. The Oklahoma House must also vote to override the veto for the measure to become law.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

For Many Women, Road to Prison Is Paved With Trauma

In her dorm at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, anxiety attacks used to waken Nikki Frazier in the middle of the night. For about an hour she would sit on her bed, shaking, sweaty and nauseous. “It would feel like I was having a heart attack,” Frazier said. “It was just a big ball of weight in my chest, and it was so bad.”

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Slightly fewer Oklahoma third graders at risk of retention

Fewer students are at risk of repeating third grade for failing Oklahoma’s reading exam this year, according to preliminary test results released Friday. Data shows 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the grade after scoring at the lowest level – “unsatisfactory” – on the state’s reading exam. Last year’s results showed 16 percent, or 7,861 students, were at risk of repeating the grade.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

See also: Third grade reading scores – pick a headline from okeducationtruths

Republican presidential hopefuls heading to Oklahoma City this week

The road to the White House goes through downtown Oklahoma City this week as hopefuls in the crowded Republican field audition on a stage ideally suited for their messages about military power, religious liberty and energy independence. Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations — including some who have not officially declared their candidacy — will speak at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, which begins at the Cox Convention Center on Thursday.

Read more from NewsOK.

Court decision sparks request to review make-up of Oklahoma boards

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been asked to review the make-up of Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards to determine whether board members are vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions. The Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, Oklahoma Board of Nursing and Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy are among numerous state boards that apparently could be impacted by the February U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Read more from NewsOK.

Former Bellmon top advisor, non-profit director join OK Policy board

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that Andrew Tevington, who served for many years as a top advisor to Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, whose experience includes over 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to its Board of Directors.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

“Whatever agreement they do come to will not touch one dollar of an irresponsible income tax cut, will not essentially raise any money from any of the billions of dollars of tax credits that are currently out there. Instead they’re going to balance this budget on the backs of county roads and bridges, on the backs of public education teachers, on the backs of nurses and physicians’ assistants around the state.”

-House Minority Leader Scott Inman, speaking about the state of budget negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Fallin (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015, the biggest loss in the nation.

Source: Bee Informed Partnership

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Where the Minimum-Wage Fight Is Being Won

Last Thursday, congressional Democrats unveiled their latest demand for an increase in the national minimum wage: $12 an hour by 2020, an increase of nearly 68 percent from its current $7.25. Their proposal isn’t likely to get enacted anytime soon. Yet the real story in the minimum-wage fight is just how much of an afterthought the federal government has become.

Read more from CityLab.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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