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[Archived] Rivers exec urged for water board

| Oklahoma Scenic Rivers | January 18, 2017

The Senate panel advances Ed Fite despite questions about his having dual state duties. 

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three weeks after his nomination was postponed, Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite was recommended Thursday for confirmation to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board by the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on a 14-1 vote.

The Oklahoma Farm Bureau had raised questions about the legality of Fite having dual duties with two sta ies.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson said then that he believes that the roles of administrator and board member are different and that Fite could, therefore, serve on the water board.

Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward, who raised the concern originally, questioned Fite on several issues Thursday but vot ed for his nomination to be confirmed.

The only opposing vote came from Sen. Mike Johnson, R-Kingfisher.

Laughlin asked Fite whether he believes that he could be balanced in his treatment of agriculture interests in water quality decisions.

Fite said he owns and farms 600 acres near the Illinois River, including a cattle operation and hay and honey production, so he understands the concerns of agriculture.

Laughlin also questioned Fite's chairmanship of the Cherokee Nation's Environmental Protection Commission, adding that the tribe has an air-quality application pending before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fite said he is not promoting that application.

He acknowledged that, as a Cherokee Indian, he has allegiances to both the tribe and the state.

"I'm going to have to walk a fine line on that," he said. "Hopefully folks can look at my record the last 22 years as administrator of the Scenic Rivers Commission and they will see that I'm going to do what's best for the whole, or what's right, I hope, most of the time."

Fite assured committee members that in the event of any conflict, he would abstain from voting on particular issues.

Laughlin said he is satisfied with Fite's answers to his questions.

"I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, and I know Mr. Fite has a long history in Oklahoma," he said. "I think he's an honorable man. I hope that he doesn't go overboard on the water quality standards."

Johnson said he opposed the nomination because some of his constituents oppose it.

Fite said he expected a closer vote and thought his opportunity to outline his farming background and other interests for the panel might have helped ease senators' concerns.

"I know the plight of farmers," Fite said.

Jeramy Rich, director of public policy for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said he still believes that Fite's appointment is legally questionable.

He said doesn't see the Farm Bureau taking the issue to court, at least not now.

Rich said the Farm Bureau did not actively oppose recommending Fite for confirmation.

"I think that probably reflects our attitude in the future, that we raised what we felt was a legitimate concern, and a number of people, I think, brought that concern forward and asked that question," he said.

Fite's nomination is for an unexpired term ending May 14, 2008, succeeding Glenn Sharp.

It now goes to the full Senate.

Marie Price (405) 528-2465