Five Tribes chiefs speak out against Hardin poultry bill

Mar. 20—House Bill 4118 was referred for a second reading on March 19 to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, but leaders from Oklahoma's Five Tribes are asking state legislators not to move forward with the measure.

In a statement issued March 19, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the CN strongly opposes the bill, saying it would have negative impacts on the environment and water quality in the reservation. Hoskin said it would undermine the tribes' efforts to safeguard preservation of land and water for future generations.

"Our waters and environment have suffered due to pollution from the industry. This bill seeks to defend and could exacerbate the degradation of natural resources that our communities depend upon," Hoskin said.

Hoskin said the bill threatens to weaken accountability and resource management practices, and increases potential for further water contamination.

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes — which represents Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek and Seminole tribes — put out a statement March 19 strongly opposing the bill's passage.

"We are united in opposition to a bill that threatens to undermine safe drinking water and healthy environments across our reservations. We ask that House Bill 4118 not advance in the Oklahoma Senate," the statement reads. "The State Department of Agriculture lacks the capacity to protect water quality and ensure best practices across Oklahoma on its own."

The bill, authored by State Rep. David Hardin, R-District 6, is an amendment that modifies the best management practices by declaring they are designed to prevent poultry waste from coming into contact with waters of the state. If contact occurs from a waste application site, the poultry producer's Nutrient Management Plan requires revisions. The measure grants legal immunity to poultry contractors and their employees whose NMPs are in compliance with a state-approved plan, states the summary of the bill.

Last year, Hardin authored H.B. 2053 to allow a groundwater permit applicant whose request has been appealed to take groundwater while the appeal is pending, unless the appellant has shown a high likelihood it will be granted. Any preliminary injunctive relief must be restricted to amending the harm claimed. That bill was signed into law June 7, 2023, by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Indigenous Women's Network Director Pamela Kingfisher said that in 2018, it was discovered that poultry companies had increased the size of their production houses from 40 by 400 feet to 60 by 600 feet. The number of chickens went from 30,000 to 60,000, and nobody did the math on the increased waste, Kingfisher said during the March 9 Women to Women conference.

"We shut down six houses; Cherokee Nation bought the houses right off of Spring Creek and said, 'no,'" Kingfisher said. "And that shut down those Arkansas companies and got them away from the water. They still put in 280 new houses in two counties, and all the money is going to Arkansas."

Kingfisher asserted that Double Spring Creek is "dead" and that Spring Creek has been tested for the past 2-1/2 years, and if the water is high, the phosphorous and nitrogen levels are high, as well as E-coli.

Spring Creek is a 35-mile long stream that eventually flows into Lake Fort Gibson. According to an article titled "A Northeast Oklahoma grassroots group suing for more say on poultry farms will have its day in court" on KOSU by Graycen Wheeler on April 19, 2023, Spring Creek Coalition filed suite against Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry.

SCC alleges that ODAFF issues licenses to poultry facilities without alerting residents or gathering information on the potential impacts to public health or the environment.

The SCC's website states that the biggest threat to water comes from the massive amounts of poultry litter produced.

"Poultry litter makes an excellent fertilizer and it is readily available. Ranchers spread it on their fields to grow grass for cattle. Nitrogen is used by the grass. The phosphorous component is over-abundant. It remains in the soil and leaches into the creek. This can cause nutrient-loading, too many nutrients, which can result in algae blooms, depletion of oxygen, and death of fish and other life in the stream," states the website.