Arkansas trying to stop suit
By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
The state seeks U.S. Supreme Court permission to sue Oklahoma over a poultry dispute.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a lawsuit by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson against the poultry industry in his state.
Beebe, a Democrat running for governor, said Oklahoma is trying to enforce its laws on Arkansas.
"This is a question of state sovereignty," Beebe said. "In effect, the lawsuit filed in Oklahoma attempts to trump Arkansas laws."
Edmondson filed a lawsuit in June in federal court in Tulsa against 14 poultry companies, alleging that excess chicken litter spread as fertilizer is polluting eastern Oklahoma watersheds. The companies contract with individual poultry growers in Arkansas, Oklahoma and other states.
Beebe alleges that Oklahoma should have brought the case before the relatively obscure Arkansas River Basin Compact Commission, which consists of three Arkansas delegates, three Oklahoma delegates and a nonvoting federal delegate.
Edmondson said that under the compact, Oklahoma does not give up its right to enforce state and federal law, adding that the nation's high court will see through that argument.
Edmondson said that in 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its belief that water quality standards of a downstream state are enforceable against an upstream state.
In addition, Oklahoma is accus ing the poultry companies of violating federal law, something the Arkansas lawsuit does not mention.
Edmondson said Beebe's petition is merely a request to the high court seeking permission to file a lawsuit.
"If the Supreme Court says we can't proceed to enforce Oklahoma or federal law against the polluters out of Arkansas, then we are done," Edmondson said. "The lawsuit is over."
Beebe's petition says agriculture is a primary stimulus of economic growth in Arkansas, making up nearly 11 percent of its gross state product. The poultry industry in 2001 in Arkansas provided 50,705 jobs and paid $1.21 billion in wages.
"Oklahoma seeks to impose extraterritorial obligations upon Arkansas and its citizens and to supplant Arkansas law," Beebe's petition to the Supreme Court states. "Allowing this imposition of Oklahoma law within Arkansas would undermine fundamental principles of state sovereignty."
Oklahoma wants to regulate lawful commercial activity within Arkansas's borders as a solution to its alleged pollution problems, the petition states.
Beebe said his decision to file the suit was not influenced by the poultry industry.
"It is my belief that if Mike Beebe were not running for governor, he would not have done this," Edmondson said.
During his tenure in office, Edmondson said, he has never seen an attorney general intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of corporate polluters. "We have known for years that no bit of environmental legislation gets passed in Arkansas unless Tyson and their buddies sign off on it," Edmondson said. "We have known for years that big poultry runs government in the state of Arkansas. But they don't run government in the state of Oklahoma. And they don't run the federal courts."
Tyson Foods is among the companies named in Edmondson's lawsuit.
Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the poultry companies involved in the suit, said the companies are reviewing Beebe's filings before making a comment.
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465