New Oklahoma Governor, AG to Review Arkansas Poulty Lawsuit

November 8, 2010

Oklahoma Gov.-elect Mary Fallin plans to review a pending environmental lawsuit filed against several Arkansas poultry companies, but she hadn’t made a decision about the case’s merits, her spokesman said.

Outgoing Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued 11 companies, including Tyson Foods and Cargill Inc., alleging that chicken manure from their facilities polluted the 1 million-acre Illinois River watershed, which straddles Oklahoma and Arkansas. Testimony wrapped up earlier this year, but the judge has yet to rule.

Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the federal lawsuit is one of many legal matters Fallin will look at when she takes office. Weintz said poultry farmers had expressed concern about the fairness of the case, but Fallin “hasn’t said if the lawsuit is proper or improper.”

“She just said she would review it,” he said.

Attorney General-elect Scott also will review the case. Pruitt was criticized by his challenger during the election for accepting campaign donations from employees of some of the companies named in the suit, which his spokeswoman said will have nothing to do with the review.

Weintz told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week that Fallin had expressed a willingness to chat with poultry farmers about the lawsuit, garnering optimistic reaction from the industry.

“We’re in hopes that (Pruitt) is more interested in having an open discussion and looking at facts and science as opposed to taking the approach that the problem belongs to all the poultry,” Marvin Childers, president of The Poultry Federation, told the newspaper. The Little Rock, Ark.-based organization represents chicken and turkey companies in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Lori Peterson, vice president of public policy for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said she has met with Fallin and Pruitt, and believes they’ll be supportive of business and agriculture interests. She told the newspaper that Pruitt “is going to look at everything with a fresh set of eyes.”

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickleson said in an e-mail Saturday that the company would rather not comment.

Edmondson, who filed the lawsuit in 2005, didn’t seek re-election as attorney general so he could challenge Lt. Gov. Jari Askins for the Democratic nomination for governor. Edmondson lost by less than 1 percent to Askins, who also received campaign contributions from the poultry industry.

Pruitt, a Republican, defeated longtime Oklahoma City attorney Jim Priest to win the attorney general’s race. According to campaign finance records filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, employees from some of the companies named in the poultry lawsuit contributed at least $15,000 to Pruitt’s campaign.

Pruitt’s spokeswoman, Crystal Drwenski, said the donations have nothing to do with the lawsuit’s review.

“Attorney General-elect Pruitt will evaluate the case based upon the merits of the arguments presented by both sides at the appropriate time,” Drwenski said.

Weintz said the overall agriculture industry, not just poultry farmers, supported Fallin during the campaign.

“Gov.-elect Fallin’s position is basically that there are environmental laws for a reason and they need to be obeyed,” he said. “But the laws should be written in a way that isn’t unfair to agriculture and doesn’t hurt the economy.”

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