Oklahoma’s Environment and Infrastructure

Oklahoma’s Environment and Infrastructure

Natural resources and regulatory agencies are the smallest government function. Government helps create a robust economy while protecting natural resources and protecting consumers from harmful business practices. While some consider “the regulatory state” a relatively new phenomenon, governments long have been expected to both promote and to regulate markets. Government has regulated industry from the time it first developed. It also has taken steps to protect the environment by setting aside open spaces, separating noxious land uses from other activities, and creating healthy systems to provide water and collect sewage and solid waste. All of these activities date back at least to ancient Rome.

Expectations of government in this regard have grown substantially in the last 50 years. As private industry has grown and become more complex, citizens have expected government to protect workers and consumers from abuses and to help maintain fair trade. As society has become more urban, water and sewer systems have taken on new importance. As we have become aware of a deteriorating environment and changing climate, we want government to change the direction and protect the planet for ours and future generations. At the same time, the economy must keep growing. In the 20th century governments expanded an already active economic development policy by creating programs to aid agriculture, air travel, home ownership, and a vast array of other activities that had been considered private.

Oklahoma’s economy, traditionally based on agriculture and oil and gas, has diversified in the last thirty years. Government tax incentives, training assistance, infrastructure improvements, and cash payments have spurred this development. Low labor and land costs and good transportation links also have helped attract defense, commercial aircraft, service industry call centers, and new manufacturing plants. We have also made substantial progress in investing in public facilities that support the private economy, including better roads and water systems and more modern community facilities. At the same time, we have lost many large plants in the automotive and electronics industries, and we have struggled with a high proportion of low-wage jobs that don’t enough to allow working families to get by and get ahead.

Economic growth comes with some negative effects. Environmental damage is the most obvious. In this regard, Oklahoma is falling behind by many measures. We use more energy than most states and we do not have strong environmental policies. The agricultural base often suffers and lags behind the rest of the nation in farm income. We are fortunate, however, to have cleaner air, water, and land than much of the rest of the nation.

42nd — Oklahoma ranked the 42nd greenest state in a 2015 WalletHub study. It considered carbon emissions per person, air and water quality, hazardous waste, energy use, and environmentally friendly behaviors.

10th — In 2014, Oklahoma was 10th highest among states in energy use per person, according to the US Department of Energy. The average Oklahoman used 433 million BTUs each year, compared to the national average of 309 million. Climate extremes, sparse population, high reliance on cars, and generally low energy prices all contribute.

31st — Oklahoma ranks 31st among states for business in 2010, according to CNBC. This ranking, down from 25th in 2010, reflects top-10 rankings in cost of living and cost of doing business, but bottom-10 rankings in education, workforce, technology and innovation, and quality of life.

$4–Net farm income per acre on Oklahoma farms in 2009, according to the US Department of Agriculture. We fell well below the national average of $68 per acre and ranked 47th. We ranked  40th in total farm income.

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