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Tulsa opposes poultry pollution bill

Downtown Tulsa is seen next to the Arkansas River.
KWGS File Photo
Downtown Tulsa is seen next to the Arkansas River.

Administrative staff approved the formal stance against the bill "based on the evaluation of the Water & Sewer Department."

Tulsa has now formally joined growing opposition to a bill that would shield poultry farmers from environmental lawsuits in Oklahoma.

Tulsa officials confirmed Monday that the city’s government opposes House Bill 4118, which would keep municipalities from bringing lawsuits against poultry companies accused of polluting water supplies with feces. Administrative staff approved the formal stance "based on the evaluation of the Water & Sewer Department," said mayor's spokesperson Michelle Brooks.

The bill’s author, Rep. David Hardin, has defended it by arguing poultry businesses would still have to follow a self-created nutrient management plan approved by the state if they wish to be protected from litigation.

Brooks claims the city will take on higher water treatment costs because of pollution if the potential law passes.

"The bill's proposed language gives no recourse for communities and rural water systems to recover increased treatment costs," Brooks said in a statement to Public Radio Tulsa. "This alone will negatively impact local water supplies, utilities, and rate payers across the state."

Tulsa and the state’s five largest Native American tribes are now opposed to the potential law. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said his tribe "strongly opposes" the legislation, arguing it increases the potential for water contamination.

"It is imperative that legislation reflects a balance between agricultural interests and the urgent need for environmental protection. House Bill 4118, as it stands, fails to strike this necessary balance and, therefore, we will work to oppose this bill in the Oklahoma Senate.”

HB 4118 was introduced after a federal judge ruled for Oklahoma in a nearly two-decades-long legal battle to get Tyson Foods and 10 other poultry farmers to remedy phosphorous pollution from poultry feces. In 2023, Judge Gregory Frizzell said that the world's largest poultry producer and the farmers violated two of Oklahoma's anti-pollution laws and caused irreparable damage to the Illinois River watershed.

Now, the bill that may limit similar liabilities passed the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Monday. It was approved by the House of Representatives in February.

Although the bill mostly passed along party lines, several Tulsa-area Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. Republican Sen. Cody Rogers of Catoosa also voted against the bill in committee Monday.

Tulsa state Rep. Jeff Boatman, who supports 4118, believes the legislation will lead to better water quality because the state could be "on the hook" for a bad nutrient plan.

"The outcome we're actually going to see is, you'll see better regulation and cleaner water," Boatman said.

Boatman said city officials did not speak with him before he voted on it in the House, but spoke with him briefly after it passed out of his chamber.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.