Oklahoma Depends on Cherokee For Poultry Pollution Suit

[imgbelt img=Eagle.jpg]The Oklahoma Attorney General has sued Arkansas poultry companies for damages to the Illinois River. But a federal judge says he can’t proceed without the Cherokee Nation as a plaintiff.

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[img:Illinoissmall.jpg] [source]super cooper

This map shows the number of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) located in Arkansas in the Illinois River basin. Click on he map for a much larger version of the map. It helps explains why the Oklahoma AG is filing suit against the Arkansas companies.
This story begins in 2005, when Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson filed suit against 13 poultry companies, claiming they had polluted the Illinois River. There are scores of huge chicken feeding operations centered largely in Arkansas. Over 55,000 people in the two states work in the poultry industry. Oklahoma argued that 345,000 tons of poultry waste produced each year had damaged the Illinois watershed, home to the country’s iconic bird, the bald eagle. The Arkansas attorney general entered the case on behalf of the companies.

As Curtis Killman of the Tulsa newspaper describes the action, the Illinois River valley lies in land set aside by the federal government for the Cherokee Nation in northeast Oklahoma. The poultry companies argued that Oklahoma does not have the right to seek $611 million in damages to a river and valley that belong to the Cherokee.

The Cherokee Nation and the state had signed an agreement in the spring that assigned the state the right to seek damages on behalf of the tribe. http://www.illinoisriver.org/336768.aspx That wasn’t good enough for Federal District Judge Gregory Frizzell, who ruled the state could not proceed without the Cherokee as a full-fledged plaintiff in the case  Frizzell said the state could continue to seek an injunction against poultry company waste disposal practices, but Oklahoma couldn’t ask for damages on behalf of the tribe.

Environmental attorney Harlan Hentges writes that the judge’s ruling makes it impossible for the State of Oklahoma to protect what it considers its interests “unless a Tribal Nation agrees. This will have impacts far beyond the poultry lawsuit.”

Hentges wrote that the poultry suit will “set a precedent regarding whether or not industrialized agriculture can push its waste, and therefore its costs, onto landowners….Judge Frizzell’s ruling now gives the Cherokee Nation the power to stop this lawsuit or cause it to go forward….I cannot think of a prior instance in which a decision by the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation had this much impact on our state our country.”

People in Oklahoma and Arkansas now wait to see what the Cherokee will do.

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