Assessing the First Regular Session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature, the first to convene during Gov. Kevin Stitt's administration, it is difficult to see how the new chief executive expects to move the state forward with so much of the agenda still rooted in the past.
This is especially true with regard to policies related to sustainable business practices, renewable energy and the protection of Oklahoma's natural resources. The governor and his Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner, who went to Washington with the scandal-ridden anti-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — now former head of that agency — before his return, quickly pursued an agenda that limits local authority and protects corporate polluters.
The pair pursued a legislative agenda backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a bill mill that cranks out copy-and-paste legislation drafted by — or on behalf of — corporate interests and big agribusiness. The influence of the fossil-fuel industries on the Stitt administration and lawmakers effectively killed a collection of bills promoted by the Oklahoma Sierra Club that would have freed up and expanded the solar energy industry in this state.
A market research report released earlier this year while lawmakers were considering these measures showed Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation with regard to its potential to develop solar energy. Because of the oil and gas industry's grip on state policymakers and lawmakers, Oklahoma actually ranks 46th when it comes to harnessing the solar energy available.
Fortunately, similar attempts to arrest the development of wind energy have been less successful here. Oklahoma ranks second only to Texas when it comes to harnessing the power of the wind even after state officials successfully stopped projects to an industry that statistics show provides good jobs.
Oklahoma can be a Top 10 state, but that cannot happen if our elected leaders continue to handcuff us to the past. The development of new technologies and a future built on sustainable and renewable energy will be rewarded by an abundance of opportunities for Oklahomans.