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[Archived] Oklahoma Attorney General to file poultry suit

| Oklahoma Scenic Rivers | January 03, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Thursday he is moving forward with a lawsuit against poultry companies over pollution in eastern Oklahoma watersheds.

Edmondson said he will seek an injunction to prevent poultry farmers from applying excess chicken litter to the land as fertilizer.

Edmondson and poultry companies have been in negotiations since November 2001. Late Thursday, both sides announced that mediation, which has been going on for weeks, had failed.

Edmondson filed a long-threatened lawsuit in June in Tulsa's U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Oklahoma against 14 poultry companies, alleging violations of the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Edmondson said Thursday that he plans to amend the suit for additional allegations and causes of action.

Edmondson said he couldn't comment on why mediation had failed because of a confidentiality agreement. He said the companies had violated that agreement by issuing a statement.

"I can say globally there was just a singular lack of good faith on the part of the 
companies," the attorney general said.

In their prepared statement, poultry companies said water quality took a backseat to Edmondson's demands, which they said could destroy the economic vitality of the poultry industry and change legal farming practices.

Companies joining in the statement included Tyson Foods, Peterson Farms, Simmons Foods, George's, Cargill Turkey Production and Cal-Maine Foods.

Janet Wilkerson, spokeswoman for the companies, said in the statement that poultry farmers are complying with laws governing the application of litter.

"Despite the farmers' compliance with what the law requires, the companies voluntarily proposed a broad, long-term plan to provide poultry farmers a number of options and other conservation measures that could be implemented in all of the Scenic River watersheds to eliminate any concerns over poultry farming, while protecting the state's economy," Wilkerson said.

"If the attorney general was genuinely interested in water quality, he would not have slammed the door on our proposal," she said. "His decision to press forward with his claim that nutrients in fertilizer are hazardous substances has placed all of agriculture in jeopardy."

Edmondson's office says the phosphorus in excess litter runs off into streams and rivers. It creates algae blooms, choking aquatic life and causing problems with taste and odor in drinking water.

Wilkerson called the lawsuit destructive to all farmers and ranchers.

"We are in a struggle to preserve 12,000 poultry-related jobs in Oklahoma and a way of life for family farmers in Eastern Oklahoma and Northwestern Arkansas," she said.

A federal judge will likely direct the parties to settlement talks, Edmondson said.

"We would welcome those," the attorney general said.

The lawsuit will be expensive for the poultry companies, he said.

"They are going to have the cost of settlement, plus attorney fees for the next six months to a year," Edmondson said. "I honestly believe their cheapest route would have been to make the mediation session successful."

Wilkerson said the companies will respond to the suit once they are served.

"We will rely on the facts, the law and the common sense of people who are not running for re-election and obliged to pay unnecessary out-of-state trial lawyer fees that have absolutely nothing to do with protecting scenic rivers," Wilkerson said.