When my husband and I were house hunting in Oklahoma a few years ago, we took into account where we looked at homes. One thing we wanted to avoid was living too close to a polluted area, as we knew at the time, the local cement plant spewed pollution.
Recently, a bill has been introduced that would make it easier for companies to hide information about pollution. And many Oklahomans are rightly concerned.
The Oklahoma Environmental, Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act has already passed the Oklahoma Senate and is on it’s way to the House.
This controversial bill would allow corporations that self-audit or hire contractors to conduct environmental compliance audits of their facilities. These audits would be sealed and not available publicly via an Oklahoma Open Records Act request or even during court proceedings.
There would even be penalties for anyone that released the information, including public officials.
Environmental groups in Oklahoma are clearly very concerned about what this bill could mean for the people of Oklahoma and the environment.
“This law is simply assuring Oklahomans will pay the price while corporations and businesses that harm them will be given amazing special privileges, this is not about the public good—this is about protecting private profits and it is absolutely shameful.” – Johnson Grimm-Bridgwater, Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club
As an Oklahoman, I’m extremely concerned about this bill. Giving corporate polluters the legal right to hide pollution from the public denies me the right to know what they are emitting into the air I breathe and the water I drink.
David Page, a longtime Tulsa environmental attorney, shares my concerns:
“It’s the most comprehensive act I’ve ever seen that will protect people who have caused pollution. They will be able to hide information that is typically available to the people impacted to protect themselves and their property.”
Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner says this bill will help environmental interests. But a quick reading of Senate Bill 1003 leaves me wondering how.
Wagner claims that under the proposed act, a “problem” could be addressed faster if it is caught by the company during a self-audit. His rational is that this gives companies an incentive to clean up if the documents are sealed. And third-parties would be unable to use the documents to sue them.
Where is the protection for those of us harmed by a “problem” found in one of these audits? Without access to these secret documents, we are not only left blindly trusting the companies to clean up after themselves, we are rewarding corporate polluters with a free pass to violate our health and safety.
Reducing public awareness and input opens the door for more and more potential corruption. We have enough of that already in Oklahoma. If the Oklahoma Environmental, Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act passes, I can only hope my family doesn’t decide to move in the future. Because we would never know whether or we are safe.