Former Oklahoma governor, AG criticize HB 4118

Frank Keating and Drew Edmondson believe the proposed legislation won’t protect farmers against lawsuits as much as it will poultry integrators.

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A proposed bill said to protect Oklahoma poultry producers from legal action over environmental issues has been criticized by the state’s former Gov. Frank Keating and Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

The bill, known as HB 4118, has been approved by the House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. It awaits a vote from the full Senate.

Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell, drafted the bill, which would grant “statutory immunity from nuisance liability” to poultry growers, operators, integrators and waste applicators, as long as they had a state-approved Nutrient Management Plan, and were in compliance with that plan.

However, in a letter to the editor of The Oklahoman, Keating, a Republican, and Edmondson, a Democrat, express concern about how HB 4118 would nullify legislation designed to protect Oklahoma’s water supply that was passed during their terms in office. Keating was governor from 1995 to 2003, while Edmondson was attorney general 1995 to 2011.

The duo acknowledged “there may well be a problem with nuisance lawsuits under current law,” but added that “HB4118 is not the answer.”

In their collective opinion, the bill doesn’t protect the farmers of Oklahoma as much as it does the companies in the poultry industry. They pointed out that in 2023, a federal district court found that 11 poultry companies were primarily responsible for polluting the Illinois River Watershed, but that no contract farmers were sued. It was only the integrators that faced litigation, they wrote.

“HB 4118 is the most blatant special interest legislation to come down the pike. It benefits only out-of-state companies making billions of dollars at the expense of Oklahoma’s rivers and lakes. It does not protect farmers. It does not protect Oklahoma resources,” Keating and Edmondson wrote.

During his time in office, Edmondson filed suit against 12 companies, alleging they contributed to high phosphorous levels in the Illinois River Watershed.

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