By John L. Moore
The Morning News
SPRINGDALE -- Poultry companies embroiled in a lawsuit over water quality in the Illinois River said they will ask a U.S. District Court Judge in Tulsa, Okla., to delay proceedings until the U.S. Supreme Court looks at the issue.
Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe filed a petition with the high court Thursday asking the court to prevent Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson from subjecting Arkansas businesses and residents to Oklahoma laws.
Beebe's petition also says the lawsuit Edmondson filed against eight poultry companies in June is trying to preempt authority already placed in the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission.
Beebe said Edmondson's lawsuit attacks the sovereignty of Arkansas, an issue that must be handled by the Supreme Court.
Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the poultry companies, said some of Beebe's claims in the petition echoed those made by the poultry companies in their response to Edmondson's original lawsuit filed in Tulsa.
"Given that these important questions should be answered by the high court, the poultry companies will ask the Oklahoma federal court to stay proceedings in the Oklahoma lawsuit while the U.S. Supreme Court considers Arkansas' case," Wilkerson said.
Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson's office, said Edmondson will fight the delaying tactics of the poultry companies.
"We think the case belongs at the (federal) district court level," Price said. "Obviously, we are opposed to Beebe's filing the petition to the Supreme Court and we will file a response against it."
Edmondson, in a news conference Thursday, said "The Supreme Court has consistently ruled water quality standards of a downstream state can be enforced upon an upstream state," Edmondson said in his reply. "You can't stand on the Arkansas side of the border, dump toxins into the river and wash your hands of the problem."
Edmondson also said the compact between the two states allows for the states to use federal and state laws to enforce water quality.
Edmondson's office has 60 days to file a response to Beebe's claim.
"We appreciate (Arkansas Attorney) General Beebe standing up for the industry, their growers and the state of Arkansas," said Janet Wilkerson, spokeswoman for the companies and a senior vice president of Peterson Farms.
The Arkansas Farm Bureau on Friday also backed Beebe's request to ask the Supreme Court to challenge Oklahoma's efforts.
The bureau has 223,000 members in the state.
"Not only are Farm Bureau leaders and members gratified that our attorney general is defending the state's poultry industry from unjustified attack," said Reed said, "but we're extremely pleased that he is fighting for our state's right to meet EPA-approved water-quality standards."