OKLAHOMA CITY - An important and possibly the most divisive issue facing state lawmakers in the upcoming session of the Legislature is that of animal waste regulation.
State Senator Paul Muegge is at the forefront of this battle between corporate hog and chicken producers and those concerned about the environment. In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Muegge has pledged to find a solution to Oklahoma's animal waste problems.
"We will have greater environmental protections on Oklahoma's law books after this legislative session," said Senator Muegge. "The public is demanding that something be done to prevent any possible environmental disaster that concentrated animal feeding operations might cause. Be assured that lawmakers will not be denied in meeting those demands."
Senator Muegge believes this move to create a more environmentally friendly atmosphere in the corporate farming industry is the result of similar thinking from around the country. He points to an article in the spring issue of 'Choices' magazine, published by the American Agriculture Economics Association.
The article by David Ervin, Director of the Policy Studies Program at the Henry A. Wallace Institute, offers a list of priorities for environmental policies as they pertain to agriculture.
"Mr. Ervin's thinking on this issue makes tremendous sense in light of the challenge Oklahoma faces over poultry and hog waste," said Senator Muegge. "It is my desire to address as many of his suggestions into the discussions concerning the new legislation during the 1998 session of the Legislature."
Ervin details five important aspects to workable environmental agriculture policy. First, "key stakeholders need to agree on clear, specific, measurable environmental objectives." Secondly, "tangible and significant incentives" must be created if objectives are to be attained.
Ervin encourages policy makers to "allow flexibility to harness market forces" that come into play when dealing with agriculture. Next, he says the environmental policy should stimulate research and development to foster technologies that will compliment the policy.
Lastly, Ervin believes state and local governments should take a greater role in enforcement of agriculture-environment issues. Local officials have a better grasp of environmental impacts than do their counterparts in Washington.
"These suggestions can make for a positive platform as we tackle the concerns surrounding this issue," said Senator Muegge.
The Tonkawa Democrat is also the principle author of the animal waste bill lawmakers will consider. He is challenging all stakeholders, but especially those from the corporate farming community, to meet with him face to face in order to solve the problem.
"The hog and poultry industry must show a good faith effort to work with the Legislature on this issue," said Senator Muegge. "It is in their best interest to do so."