by Max Brantley
It's the Democrat-Gazette's story, so I can understand a front-page spot for a $75,000 early retirement package for a Convention and Visitors Bureau employee who was on deck during years of sloppy financial practices. (The suggestion that there's a potential for prosecution in the penny ante acts, many of simple ignorance, is badly overstated, however.)
But never mind that. There was a fine story under a one-column headline on Page 1B that should have been on the front of the newspaper. The state's top environmental regulator concedes the obvious: the state isn't getting the job done in monitoring the widespread and growing environmental damage done by the companies exploiting the Fayetteville shale gas reserves. This is on top of the state's failure to reap even a tiny return for the removal of irreplaceable treaure in the form of a standard severance tax.
Blame Gov. Mike Beebe. Action could have been taken in the 2007 session on the severance tax, on new environmental controls, on a cleanup of the messy situation on property tax and ownership problems, among many other dilemmas presented by the gas find. Beebe declared all this off-limits because he wanted a triumphant session of tax-cutting and pork feasting. The last thing he wanted to do in his inaugural term was piss off major business lobbies. Still today, with disaster looming, you get industry-salving quotes from Beebe's chief regulator, even as she acknowledges the developing disaster.
CONWAY — State environmental regulators said Wednesday that they are struggling to keep up with an influx of drilling operations along the Fayetteville Shale and that existing regulations don’t have “teeth.”
“We know there’s a lot of drilling going on,” said Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, at a public meeting at Conway’s McGee Center to hear proposed rules for oil and gas drilling. “We wanted to be able to ensure industries we weren’t putting undue burdens on them, although we have to ensure the protection of the environment.”
Burden industry? Right. She goes on to say that state rules aimed at environmental protection are "not necessarily enforceable" and that she has 15 inspectors to police an industry digging 600 and more potentially hazardous waste pits a year, never mind water usage issues, erosion, road damage, etc.
Over the long haul, the state's admission that it can't oversee a giant industry tracking waste all over the state is a heckuva lot more important than Janet Charles' $75,000 early retirement. Seems to me.