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Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 6, 2015 at 8:40 am •  Published: October 6, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Oct. 6

Problems can't continue with Oklahoma execution protocol

Having seen its request granted to postpone three pending executions, the state of Oklahoma must determine not just went wrong with a planned execution last week, but whether it's truly capable of carrying out this duty without incident.

There is some reason to wonder, given the events surrounding Richard Eugene Glossip's near-execution last week. Gov. Mary Fallin issued a last-minute stay after it was discovered that one of the three drugs to be used was the wrong drug. Instead of potassium chloride, the provider had shipped potassium acetate.

What followed was a series of sometimes contradictory statements from various parties scrambling to explain what transpired. Meantime, the episode gave anti-death penalty groups one more example of why they say states should get out of the business of putting felons to death.

Oklahoma has provided plenty of fodder in the past year-and-a-half. In April 2014, Clayton Darrell Lockett writhed on the gurney and mumbled after his execution began. He ultimately died 43 minutes after the first of three drugs entered his system.

A state investigation found that an intravenous needle improperly inserted into his groin caused the bulk of the problem. Inadequate training of those involved also was highlighted.

The Department of Corrections overhauled its protocol, and in February the execution of Charles Warner went without incident. But then came the Glossip case, which has attracted international attention thanks largely to celebrity death penalty opponents who say there are questions about Glossip's guilt.

A parallel narrative involves the state's use of the sedative midazolam as the first drug in the process. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the use of midazolam, rejecting arguments that it doesn't adequately mask inmates' pain.

Midazolam was expected to be the focus last week in McAlester. Instead, the third drug became the headliner after a botched delivery.

One defense attorney accused the state of lying when it said in August it had "obtained" the drugs needed in Glossip's execution and two others. But DOC Director Robert Patton says his agency had only secured access to the drugs, which are delivered on the day of the execution. How can such a discrepancy occur?

Patton said Thursday his agency didn't have the federal authority to keep the drugs on premises. However, The Oklahoman's Graham Lee Brewer reported Saturday that two of the drugs — rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride — don't require federal permission to be held at the prison if needed.

Patton and the governor's office noted the "legal ambiguity" created when potassium acetate was delivered instead of potassium chloride. In fact, there is nothing ambiguous about Oklahoma's execution protocol as it relates to the drugs to be used. They're clearly outlined: midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Using potassium acetate would have violated protocol.

Was there some consideration given to going ahead with potassium acetate, which the provider — identity unknown, as per state law — advised was equally effective? A spokesman for the governor says yes. Patton flatly says no.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt seemed blind-sided by what transpired, and clearly was not pleased. He asked that Glossip's execution and two others be postponed until his office "knows more about these circumstances, and gains confidence that DOC can carry out executions in accordance with the execution protocol."

After the Lockett debacle, executions in Oklahoma were supposed to go much more smoothly. Instead the state again finds itself making news for all the wrong reasons.

Let's not forget, these are peoples' lives we're talking about. Those include the victims' families, who have waited years for justice to be served and now must twist even longer. The state's mix-ups and foul-ups must end, and now.


Enid News & Eagle, Oct. 3, 2015

Self-policing isn't adequate given high-stakes environment

Since March 2014, we've been calling for solid scientific research to explain Oklahoma's uptick in earthquakes.

We've had the science since last spring, and the earthquakes are increasing.

On April 21, the Oklahoma Geological Survey said it was "very likely" the majority of state quakes were triggered by injection wells associated with oil and gas production.

That same day, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called the strongly worded statement "significant," but the governor did not publicly comment on the issue until Aug. 4, when she finally stated there was a "direct correlation."

We're disappointed the governor's office was slow to make the link. Between those dates, 743 magnitude 2.5 or greater earthquakes were recorded in Oklahoma.

Addressing the silence from April to August, Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague explained Fallin's delayed announcement.

"I don't think it was as much as a time gap as it was when somebody asked the question," Teague said.

"When the governor made that announcement, it was more of the timing that she brought the press into the room and less that she changed her position."

We realize energy is a billion-dollar industry in Oklahoma. We sense our state is still overcoming the fear of biting the hand that feeds us.

Science is evolving and improving rapidly, but it's not a perfect system.

Published literature from past decades is being dusted off by scientists studying Oklahoma's earthquakes.

Thankfully, energy companies now are providing their proprietary data on faults gathered through exploration.

In our state, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission uses the data to regulate the oil and gas industry

The silver lining with low oil prices may be less pushback from energy companies to divulge information.

Oklahoma should be detailed in policing and enforcing injection restrictions.

We appreciate the cooperation of increased data provided from the oil and gas industry, but relying solely on self-policing isn't adequate given the high-stakes environment.

We're reminded of President Reagan's quote about "trust but verify," meaning we need to periodically audit independently in light of recent developments.


Tulsa World, Oct. 6, 2015

EPA tightens ozone standards

The Obama administration has tightened ground-level ozone standards, making it even harder for Tulsa to avoid federal air pollution penalties.

The new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules set the ozone maximum (measured through a complex formula involving a three-year average of a measuring site's fourth highest reading) at 70 parts per billion. The old standard was 75 ppb.

Metropolitan Tulsa has struggled with the old ozone standard for years. After the recently ended peak ozone season, all five of the Tulsa area's measuring stations are within the 70 ppb standard, but the margin is very narrow. Until this year, the area's average has never been below the new threshold. One site's rolling average stands only 2 ppb shy of violation, and another is only 3 ppb away. A few still summer days could be very bad for the community. On Aug. 7, one Tulsa station blew all the way up to 84 ppb.

The potential penalties for violation are significant, although undefined. If the EPA found Tulsa metropolitan area — which would include all of Tulsa County and parts of Creek, Osage, Rogers and Wagoner counties — in violation of the standards, we would have to come up with a plan to bring ozone levels down, which could include limitations on industrial expansion and highway building and other penalties.

No one likes air pollution, and we're sure the people of the Tulsa area will again do their best to meet the standards. Ozone is a major component in smog, and it is dangerous to children, the elderly, people with lung diseases and others. We're all familiar with the ozone alert day pleas to limit driving, lawn-mowing and gasoline fill-ups when the temperatures are high and the wind is not.

But we wish we had firmer faith that the EPA's standards were measuring something other than the number of hot, still days in an Oklahoma summer and that the new lower standards weren't driven by an anti-fossil fuel agenda.


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