In The Know: Oklahoma quakes too powerful to be man-made

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that while fracking has been linked to some earthquakes, the recent quakes in Oklahoma were too powerful to be man-made. The quakes provided a large amount of data for Oklahoma scientists and are stirring more interest in earthquake insurance. Speaker Steele is pushing forward with scrutiny of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system over resistance from state district attorneys. The Tulsa World investigated complaint records for the state’s 183 county and city jails, which are monitored by just 2 inspectors in the Health Department.

The OK Policy Blog explains three sensible budgeting reforms that would help the state make better decisions. Senator Tom Coburn said he would be willing to accept tax increases as part of a debt deal. Federal reductions for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program have forced DHS to stop accepting clients and slash the benefits for those who will receive aid. Oklahoma won a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help low-income students get to college. OU has been awarded a federal grant for weather research that will help employ 160 scientists and researchers through 2016.

A newly filed lawsuit claims Halliburton released ammonium perchlorate and radioactive waste into groundwater at a now-closed facility in Duncan, Oklahoma and did not take corrective action. The Associated Press looks at the status of Cherokee freedmen descendants under a newly inaugurated Cherokee chief. While debate continues over the use of the motto, “In God We Trust” on national and local stages, the Norman City Council will consider displaying the state motto, “Labor conquers all things,” in council chambers.

Oklahoma City’s walkability improvements are being scaled back due to cost overruns and lower than expected sales tax collections from construction of the Devon Energy Center. The Number of the Day is the percentage of FDIC-insured institutions in Oklahoma with earnings gains as of June 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Salon explains why a supplemental poverty measure from the U.S. Census shows even more people living in poverty than was previously thought. The OK Policy Blog previously explained the purpose of this new measure.

In The News

Oklahoma quakes too powerful to be man-made

Thousands of times every day, drilling deep underground causes the earth to tremble. But don’t blame the surprise flurry of earthquakes in Oklahoma on man’s thirst for oil and gas, experts say. Hydraulic fracturing, called fracking, involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock. While that may sound like it could cause an earthquake, experts say the process doesn’t pack nearly the punch of even a moderate earthquake. The magnitude-5.6 quake that rocked Oklahoma three miles underground had the power of 3,800 tons of TNT, which is nearly 2,000 times stronger than the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The typical energy released in tremors triggered by fracking, “is the equivalent to a gallon of milk falling off the kitchen counter,” said Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback.

Read more from The Associated Press.

See also: Earthquake will give Oklahoma experts an education from NewsOK; Earthquakes stir interest in insurance coverage from NewsOK

Criminal justice reforms facing resistance

House Speaker Kris Steele’s plan to reduce Oklahoma’s exploding inmate population and skyrocketing prison costs by diverting some low-risk, nonviolent offenders from prison took effect just last week and already is facing resistance. The attorney general recently determined one part of the plan to limit the governor’s role in the parole process is unconstitutional. And another portion that would expedite the release of some nonviolent offenders to an electronic monitoring program is drawing the ire of some of the state’s district attorneys. Despite the setbacks, Steele is pushing forward with continued scrutiny of Oklahoma’s system for locking up lawbreakers that has given the state one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Read more from NewsOK.

Complaint rate disproportionately higher at some county jails

The Tulsa World reviewed two years of county inmate complaint records filed with the state Health Department’s jail inspection division. The World’s analysis found jails with high complaint rates and examined problems that inmates may have with making their complaints heard by authorities. The state Health Department’s jail inspection division is effectively the only state body charged with keeping official records of jail inmate complaints. Two inspectors are responsible for at least one health inspection each year at 183 county and city jails – amounting to two inspections each week somewhere in the state. In addition, inspectors conduct an investigation into each inmate’s complaints, either during the health inspection or sooner for more serious complaints.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Stop Flying Blind: Three sensible reforms to help us chart a stable fiscal course

Oklahoma is facing serious challenges when it comes to having the resources to provide the sorts of public services that help create jobs and build a strong economy. Yet while the need to chart a sound, sustainable fiscal course is urgent, our policymakers too often are flying blind. Legislators routinely make spending and revenue decisions that will have long-term consequences without access to key information about the cost of funding existing obligations in the coming years. Two recent reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) suggest a pair of sensible budget management tools that Oklahoma should adopt . Current services budget: This tool would provide lawmakers and the public with the cost of maintaining today’s level of programs and benefits. State PAYGO requirement: It would require all new spending and tax cuts be fully paid for. Together with a third reform –creation of multi-year revenue forecasts – these reforms would help policymakers make better decisions.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Coburn says he is willing to accept tax hikes in debt deal

Conservative Sen. Tom Coburn has been one of the most outspoken Republican advocates for raising revenues to deal with the budget deficit, so he raised some eyebrows when he endorsed a letter last week demanding the supercommittee keep tax increases off the table. But on Monday, Coburn roundly dismissed the letter, which was signed by 32 other Republican senators. “The point is that it’s aspirational, and it’s also meaningless,” the Oklahoma Republican declared to a group of reporters just off the Senate floor. “I’m out there — pretty bold on what I believe in terms of what we ought to tackle. And I’m willing to take some tax increases.” The letter, which was organized by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), says there should be “no net tax increase” as part of any deficit-committee deal. “If we could have our way, that’s what we’d get but we’re not going to get our way, are we?” Coburn said of the letter.

Read more from Politico.

DHS forced to stop accepting energy assistance clients

Federal aid reductions for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program have forced the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to stop accepting clients and slash the benefits for those who will receive aid, DHS officials said Monday. DHS programs manager Kathy Wright said the state agency has no choice. “We want to stress that it’s not us who are cutting these funds,” she said in a news release. “It’s simply tied to the federal budget, which has yet to be approved. We can only operate with what we know we have, which is significantly less.” The assistance program is about one-third of what it was a year ago – about $16 million – and funds several home energy costs, including winter heat, summer cooling and energy crisis.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma lands another GEAR UP federal grant to get students to college

Students in Oklahoma may not have realized it was a series of multimillion grants over the past decade that brought on the extra push for them to attend college, but a series of GEAR UP Grants might have been the culprit. And that post-high school education push will continue as Oklahoma was awarded another $34.9 million over the next seven years to get students beyond their high school diploma. Johnson said the new grant means that by 2018 Oklahoma will have received more than $80 million to get underprivileged students college degrees. The grant begins with middle school students in 23 rural school districts that were selected based on need.

Read more from NewsOK.

OU selected for $75M federal weather research project expected to fund 160 jobs in Norman

The University of Oklahoma has been awarded a federal grant for up to $75 million for Weather research that will help employ 160 scientists and researchers through 2016, the school’s president announced Monday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration selected the university for the project that involves improving Weather radar technology, severe storm forecasting and understanding of extreme Weather, OU President David Boren said. The award extends funding through 2016 for the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, or CIMMS, at the National Weather Center office on the university’s campus in Norman. The institute promotes collaboration between government and academic scientists in five research areas, including forecast improvements, the impact of climate change and extreme Weather events.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Halliburton sued over pollution at Oklahoma missile casing site

Halliburton Co. faces lawsuits over groundwater pollution near a now-closed facility in Oklahoma. Halliburton, which now specializes in oilfield services, said one of its units cleaned solid fuel from missile casings between 1965 and 1991 at a semi-rural facility on the north side of Duncan, Oklahoma. A component of the fuel was ammonium perchlorate, a salt that is highly soluble in water. Halliburton said it had been discovered in the soil and groundwater on its site and in certain residential water wells near the property. The lawsuits, filed in Oklahoma state and federal courts starting late last month, claim the plaintiffs have suffered health problems such as hypothyroidism, which is associated with exposure to perchlorate over time, the company said. According to Halliburton, the lawsuits claim it knew about the releases into groundwater of ammonium perchlorate and, in a federal lawsuit, nuclear or radioactive waste as well, and that Halliburton did not take corrective actions.

Read more from Reuters.

Newly inaugurated Cherokee chief will inherit question of freedmen rights

After a bitter, drawn-out election that lasted almost four months longer than it should have, new Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker treads into yet another political minefield after his inauguration ceremony: squarely, should descendants of slaves some Cherokees once owned retain their tribal membership? Baker’s opponent, former Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, was among the major supporters of a 2007 vote by tribal citizens to kick the freedmen out of the tribe and cut off benefits such as health care, grocery stipends and housing assistance. Baker, a longtime tribal councilman, also backed the measure, but appeared far less vocal about it while he was campaigning. The citizenship issue has landed back in Tulsa federal court and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the 300,000-member tribe.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Norman City Council proposes using state motto for chambers

While debate continues over the use of the motto, “In God We Trust” on national and local stages, Tuesday Norman will consider adding yet another motto to the wall of the city council chambers. Evoking the “Rule of Three” Council members Tom Kovach, James Griffith and Hal Ezzell requested the city manager put the resolution on the agenda to display the state motto, “Labor omnia vincit” in council chambers. Translated as “labor conquers all things” or “hard work conquers all things,” the Sooner State motto has strong ties with the U.S. labor movement. Council members said adding the state motto will broaden the historical and political perspective within council chambers.

Read more from The Norman Transcript.

Oklahoma City’s Project 180 being trimmed down by a few degrees

E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, deemed one of downtown’s worst pedestrian corridors by a national walkability consultant, is being dropped from Project 180 improvements because of a shortfall in revenues and cost-overruns at Myriad Gardens and other street projects. The MAPS-style makeover of downtown streets, sidewalks and public spaces was launched by the city three years ago as part of a tax increment financing agreement with Devon Energy Corp. Brent Bryant, the city’s economic development programs manager, said the project budget is short by $10 million because sales taxes anticipated from the purchase of materials for the $750 million Devon Energy Center came in at $5 million instead of $10 million. That, in turn, dropped the amount of matching “leverage” money from $10 million to $5 million that the city could obtain from the state.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

I’m out there — pretty bold on what I believe in terms of what we ought to tackle. And I’m willing to take some tax increases.
Senator Tom Coburn

Number of the Day

58 percent

Percentage of FDIC-insured institutions in Oklahoma with earnings gains as of June 2011, compared to just 36 percent during the same period in 2009.

Source: FDIC

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The bleak face of U.S. poverty

“Bleak Portrait of Poverty Is Off the Mark, Experts Say,” blared the Friday headline in the New York Times. The traditional strategy for measuring poverty, we were told, did not include the benefits of federal programs like food stamps and tax credits that were helping to keep Americans above the poverty line. A new, “supplemental measure” from the U.S. Census that took such factors into account would reveal that many Americans thought to be living below the poverty line were actually above it. But on Monday the census unveiled its report, and a first look at the numbers suggests that the total number of people living in poverty America is higher than the traditional approach indicates. The key point explaining the discrepancy is this: The new supplemental measure does not just take into account the positive effects of tax credits and food stamps, it also calculates the negative effects of paying for childcare, out-of-pocket medical costs, geographic differences and a rising overall standard of living. Out-of-pocket medical costs alone outweigh the helpful effects of either the food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit programs.

Read more from Salon.

Previously: Richer measure of poverty on its way from the OK Policy Blog

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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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