Okla. AG ‘Not Optimistic’ About Settlement in Poultry Pollution Case

February 6, 2009

Oklahoma’s attorney general says he remains hopeful, but not optimistic, about a pretrial settlement in the state’s federal lawsuit against more than a dozen poultry companies accused of polluting the one million-acre Illinois River Watershed with bird waste.

“Being somewhat of a cynic in that regard, if it happens, it will happen closer to September than February as we get closer to the actual trial of the case,” Edmondson told The Associated Press after speaking at a University of Tulsa College of Law luncheon. “It’s always better to resolve these matters through negotiation, and I will be hopeful that could be done.

“I’m not optimistic. I think both sides are getting ready for trial.”

Robert George, an attorney for Tyson Foods Inc., one of the companies named in the lawsuit, said that “the court has instructed the parties not to comment publicly about settlement negotiations and, unlike the attorney general, Tyson Foods will respect the court’s instruction.”

Edmondson sued 13 Arkansas poultry companies in 2005, accusing them of treating Oklahoma’s rivers like open sewers.

Companies named in the 2005 complaint include Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George’s Inc., George’s Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.

The pollution trial figures to begin in September and could span several weeks.

Edmondson also is seeking to overturn a federal judge’s decision against stopping the poultry industry from disposing of bird waste in the watershed.

While gathering evidence for the pollution case, Edmondson said the state “discovered the excessive land application of poultry waste could be a danger to public health,” and argued in court for an injunction last year.

In September, U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell wrote that Oklahoma had “not yet met its burden of proving that bacteria in the waters of the IRW are caused by the application of poultry litter rather than by other sources, including cattle manure and human septic systems.”

He also found that “the record reflects levels of fecal bacteria at similar levels in rivers and streams throughout the state of Oklahoma, including waterways in whose watersheds the record does not evidence similar application of poultry waste.”

That finding was a major argument in the poultry industry’s case against an injunction.

The state is expected to argue its appeal on the injunction next month at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

“The most important thing is, one way or another, it’s going to be resolved,” Edmondson said of the case. “It is the last major item on my radar screen as attorney general.”

Edmondson, who is among several candidates considering a run for governor in 2010, said he would continue to travel the state to gauge support for his candidacy and plans to announce his decision later this year.

In January, Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins became the first candidate to officially announce for governor.

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