What with Earth Day just behind us, and Arbor Day imminent, it seems like a good time to ask: How much of present-day environmentalism is actually dedicated to improving the environment?

In an effort to get some idea of what local folks are thinking, I went to the Web site of the Oklahoma branch of the Sierra Club to see what their priorities were. They listed two bills in the State Legislature they wanted killed.

House Bill 1879, by Fred Morgan (R-Oklahoma City), would have required the Attorney General to get the permission of the Legislature before filing civil lawsuits. By some odd coincidence, AG Drew Edmondson was in the process of working up lawsuits against various poultry producers for polluting water supplies in northeastern Oklahoma; while no suits had yet been filed, Edmondson complained that the companies had no incentive to negotiate a settlement with HB 1879 pending. Even The Oklahoman, which normally sides with business, thought this bill strange, and Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta), Senate sponsor of the bill, killed it when, says the Sierra Club, he "thought it wouldn't get any votes."

On this one, I have to side with the Sierra Club: this was a dumb bill, and it deserved to be scrapped. I don't like everything that comes out of the AG's office, but the Legislature has long since demonstrated its inability to conduct oversight with any degree of finesse, and giving it more turf is seldom advisable.

The other measure, Senate Bill 484, by Daisy Lawler (D-Comanche), would (what a surprise) give the Legislature more turf: it puts fertilizer under state, rather than local, regulations. The Oklahoma Municipal League opposed it for that reason alone, and sought amendments. Says lobbyist Keith Smith:

Our fertilizer laws in Oklahoma are so weak that just about anything can be defined as fertilizer if it contains enough Nitrogen, Phosphorus or Potassium to qualify as beneficial to plants. There is no required labeling for heavy metals (lead, arsenic, etc.), dioxin or pathogens. By our law's definition, a "guaranteed analysis" of fertilizer only discloses its N-P-K content.

Emphasis in the original. I looked at the actual bill, and Smith's right: so long as you specify N-P-K correctly, you can dump just about anything else in the mix and still call it "fertilizer" under SB 484. At the very least, the bill should be amended to require more comprehensive labeling.

Poking around elsewhere on their site, I found a section devoted to urban sprawl in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Most of this seems to be recycled (of course) from the national Sierra Club and other similarly-minded groups (and there are a lot of dead external links which ought to be pruned). One argument I've seen before is that individual drivers don't pay the full costs connected with their vehicles, which might even be true. What I'd like to know is whether the Sierra Club thinks users of public transit ought to be paying the full costs of their trips: Dallas Area Rapid Transit, for instance, subsidizes every fixed-route passenger to the tune of $3.72. Even if the Sierra Club's figure of 22 cents per mile subsidy to drivers is accurate, I could go quite a distance on $3.72.

Interestingly, DART's passenger rail system, while incredibly expensive, has a lower subsidy per passenger than its bus routes, which suggests that passenger rail, even in this part of the country, isn't quite as large a money pit as it could be. Still, it's a lot easier to shuffle bus routes than it is to lay track, so I don't envision a major push for rail transit in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. Put me down on the opposite side from the Sierra Club on this issue.

There are plenty of other items they want, some of which I like (we really could use a more up-to-date water plan for the state), and some of which I don't much like (fuel-economy standards won't have any meaningful effect unless a lot more people buy new cars). And really, this is what I should have expected. I am satisfied, though, that this state's branch of the Sierra Club is not actually insane. As a fairly average Oklahoman who has made some effort to reduce his resource usage — I drive a car that's more efficient than average, I buy power from a wind farm, I use recycled paper products — I'm not inclined, as might someone of a more pronounced right-wing bent, to write them off as a bunch of kooks, so long as they don't come up with stuff like this.

The Vent

25 April 2005

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