In The Know: Texas companies mining in sensitive Oklahoma aquifer

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Texas-based mining companies have ramped up mining operations in a sensitive Oklahoma aquifer, with few regulations to protect the water. Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities exceeded degree completion goals with 1,900 more graduates than the previous year. The OK Policy Blog sets the record straight on Affirmative Action and State Question 759. Find info on all of this November’s ballot issues at our 2012 State Questions page.

Community members discussed possible uses of the proposed $748.8 million tax package at public hearings on Tulsa County’s Vision2 proposal. David Blatt’s Journal Record column examines the economic shift to more low-wage jobs.  Encana Corp said an internal investigation has determined that it did not collude with Chesapeake Energy Corp to lower land prices. A Justice Department investigation is continuing.

Republican congressional candidate Markwayne Mullin’s plumbing company was awarded around $370,000 in federal stimulus money. The Enid News & Eagle won a court case to be granted access to records sealed in a perjury trial. A Norman 3-year-old won $2,529 toward an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan.

The Number of the Day is how many jobs were added to the Oklahoma economy in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses dropping labor force participation due to more baby boomers hitting retirement age.

In The News

Texas Needs Oklahoma Limestone, Bores Into Sensitive Aquifer to Get It

There are about a dozen operations currently mining or planning to mine in the area of Mill Creek in Northern Johnston County, which is fed by the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, perhaps the state’s most sensitive water resource. The limestone in the aquifer is some of the best in world. So good, it’s even an ingredient in toothpaste. The Dallas-Fort Worth area desperately needs the rock to feed its construction needs. Most of the mining operations in the underground layer of waterlogged stone and sand are based out of state, and more are on the way. It also doesn’t hurt that Oklahoma currently has relatively few regulations when it comes to mining in aquifers. The Arbuckle-Simpson is a sole source aquifer, meaning it isn’t fed by streams or rivers. It’s only replenished as water seeps into it from the ground above, a process that can take many years. There’s no specified limit in Oklahoma on how deep into the aquifer companies can mine.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Oklahoma colleges and universities exceed graduation goals

Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities exceeded degree completion goals during the last academic year, an official at the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education announced Wednesday. Although final numbers aren’t yet available, public colleges and universities in Oklahoma had more than 1,900 more graduates during the 2011-12 academic year than during the previous year, said Tony Hutchison, the system’s vice chancellor for strategic planning, analysis and workforce and economic development. That figure places the system ahead of the goal of 1,700 additional graduates per year for the next four years. State higher education officials laid out that goal as a part of Oklahoma’s participation in Complete College America, a nationwide college completion initiative. Last year marked the state’s first year under that program.

Read more from NewsOK.

7 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Affirmative Action

One of the state questions on the general election ballot this November, SQ 759, proposes a ban on affirmative action in state employment, education, and contracting. Ironically, supporters of the ban and SQ 759 oppose practices that are already illegal in Oklahoma, or never existed in the first place. This post sets the record straight on affirmative action and considers carefully the unintended consequences of outlawing equal opportunity initiatives. 1. No ‘quotas’ for hiring or admitting minorities. Many people mistakenly believe that affirmative action is a quota system, where people are hired based on a ‘count’ of minorities that must be selected. Public hiring quotas and contract preferences have been illegal in Oklahoma since the early 1980s. The State Regents for Higher Education have never used minority admissions quotas. The myth is so pervasive, even several legislators think that SQ 759 would eliminate quotas.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

See also: 2012 State Questions from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Vision2 meeting draws crowds, opinions on sales tax plan

Tulsa’s third and fourth public hearings on the possible use of Vision2 funding brought out opponents to the proposed $748.8 million tax package and those stumping for their pet projects Wednesday. While the majority of those speaking at the two hearings voiced their support for the proposal, several people were against the idea in general. But most who turned out for the daytime hearing as well as the evening event at East Central Junior High School were there to speak in favor of funding specific projects. Projects they endorsed were generally the same ones that received support at earlier events: the Tulsa Zoo, the Tulsa Children’s Museum, Arkansas River development, Central Library improvements and the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Low-wage recovery

This week’s Labor Day holiday provides an opportunity to consider the state of the American workforce. While steady job creation and falling unemployment rates provide reasons for optimism, they tell only part of the story. The new jobs that are being created pay considerably less than those lost during the recession, according to new research. This trend only adds to the strains on working families that predate the recession. A report from the National Employment Law Project titled “The Low-Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality” explains what’s been happening. During the recession, more than two-thirds of job losses were in mid-wage occupations – jobs like truck drivers, secretaries, carpenters, and maintenance workers – that pay between roughly $14 and $21 per hour. During the recovery, job growth has been most plentiful on the lower rungs of the wage scale – jobs like retail salespeople, food preparation workers, waitresses and home aides.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Encana says internal investigation shows it did not collude with Chesapeake

Encana Corp said on Wednesday an internal investigation has determined that it did not collude with Chesapeake Energy Corp to lower the price of land acquisitions in Michigan two years ago. The company’s board of directors, which led the investigation launched on June 25 with the assistance of outside attorneys, did not provide a report on the scope of the inquiry, nor explain how it reached its conclusion. “We can’t offer more detail than what we’ve released as the issue is still under investigation by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Michigan Attorney General,” Encana spokesman Jay Averill said in an email. Encana, Canada’s largest natural gas producer, also confirmed it was served with a subpoena from the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and a civil investigatory demand from the Michigan Attorney General related to the allegations of collusion.

Read more from Reuters.

Okla. GOP candidate Mullin got $370k in stimulus

A Republican congressional candidate who argues the federal government should rein in spending was awarded around $370,000 in federal stimulus money distributed through a pair of Oklahoma Indian tribes, records show. Companies owned by Markwayne Mullin, the GOP nominee for a U.S. House seat in eastern Oklahoma, received the money under contracts with the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, according to documents posted on a government website created to track recovery funds. Records show some of the awards were made after Mullin entered the race to replace Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, who announced his retirement last year. Mullin declined to answer questions Wednesday about the contracts. His campaign released a statement in which Mullin criticized the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as a “horrible waste of tax dollars” but defended his company’s acceptance of federal dollars.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Enid newspaper wins open records court case

Members of the public and Enid News & Eagle were granted access Tuesday to records sealed in May in the perjury case of an Enid attorney in Major County. Judge Richard Van Dyck granted a motion filed by the News & Eagle to intervene in the case titled State of Oklahoma v. Eric Edwards. Van Dyck found there were grounds for the newspaper to intervene in the case. He also ruled records in the case should be unsealed and access given to the newspaper and the public. “The court finds the newspaper has a First Amendment right to publish the news as it finds it,” Van Dyck said. “The public needs to know what its elected officials are up to. The public has a right to know.”

Read more from The Edmond Sun.

Norman 3-year-old wins money toward Oklahoma college savings account

Juniper Clough isn’t yet in kindergarten, but her family is already planning for her college education. Clough, 3, of Norman, won $2,529 toward an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account during the Think Big! Save for College! Sweepstakes. The sweepstakes is an annual partnership between the savings plan and state Libraries Department. It was promoted over the summer along with the state’s Summer Reading Program. State Treasurer Ken Miller presented the winnings Wednesday morning to Juniper and her parents, Anna and Josh Clough, at the Norman Public Library. Anna Clough said planning for Juniper’s college savings has been on her mind. “I, like a lot of parents, knew I wanted to start a savings plan, but it just kept getting put off,” she said. “Now, we plan to start putting money in her account each year.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Of all the things that are useful in life, and important to address our poverty rate in Oklahoma, is understanding relationships and our health. How is it 48 other states have figured out this is important and we haven’t?

Jan Figart, associate director of the Community Service Council. Oklahoma is one of only two states that don’t have comprehensive health education in public schools to reduce teen pregnancy.

Number of the Day


Number of jobs added to the Oklahoma economy in 2011, a 1.3 percent growth in employment over the previous year.

Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why is labor force participation shrinking?

With the latest jobs report coming out Friday, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) recent budget and economic update provides important context for one closely watched figure: the labor force participation rate. The percentage of people over age 16 who are working or actively seeking work has slipped fairly steadily for the past few years. CBO says a big reason is “the economic downturn [and] weak growth in output during the recovery.” In other words, the recession and lack of job opportunities have driven many people from the labor force. But, in a finding that has attracted little attention, CBO says that roughly half of the recent drop in labor force participation has occurred simply because more and more baby boomers are hitting retirement age.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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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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