LAKEVIEWS • JOHN M. WYLIE II, Editor and Publisher
We were among the nation’s first full-time energy and environmental writers. We were charter members of the Society of Environmental Journalists. We’ve studied environmental issues, and written about them, for four decades.
We’ve always admired most environmentalists because, especially in Oklahoma, their positions aren’t always the most popular in the world.
But they persevere, and the most effective know when to apply some common sense to environmental regulations.
Then there are times like last week, when some dunderhead in Washington decided to end a program that has provided 8,812 military surplus vehicles and apparatus worth $150 million to Oklahoma rural fire departments and like amounts to such departments in other states.
The reason? A 25-year-old agreement between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency that equipment which did not meet current emissions standards would be destroyed instead of being repurposed to fight fires.
The agreement had never been enforced, which allowed up to 900 fire departments to get equipment they never could have afforded to buy.
The logic behind the destruction agreement is difficult to fathom. How much diesel smoke does a truck emit compared to the increasingly out-of-control wildfires it brings under control?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.
In the Northwest Rogers County Fire District, we’re lucky. We no longer have surplus military vehicles in our fleet because we have the property tax resources to acquire safer, more efficient equipment.
But ask the district’s founders from more than three decades ago. As recently as the late 1960s, the only Oologah fire truck was military surplus.
In its early days, Northwest had a number of those units. We couldn’t be where we are today had the program not existed three decades ago.
And when a really big wildfire hits, much of the mutual aid that responds involves military surplus units whose departments couldn’t operate without them.
We may be seeing one of the few times in history when Republican stalwarts Senator Jim Inhofe and Insurance Commissioner John Doak and Democratic leader State Rep. Chuck Hoskin could agree on anything. They all say this ludicrous policy change must be junked.
In Oklahoma, the program is administered by the State Forestry Department—which has 12 of the vehicles which it uses to haul bulldozers and provides the rest to rural fire departments.
George Geissler, Forest Service director, said the wildfire crisis has been growing in Oklahoma, with more damage recorded through May than was toted up in all of 2013.
“We are still in the grips of a persistent drought—the 6-month rainfall total in this area is the lowest it’s been in 18 years—and rural, volunteer fire departments are the last line of defense for many Oklahoma families,” Hoskin said.
Geissler is optimistic that the DOD/EPA decision will be reversed. He said the issue has attracted the attention of, besides Inhofe (ranking member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee), Hoskin and Doak, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plus the Armed Services Committee; U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee; and Gov. Mary Fallin.
Normally in time of drought, we avoid open burning. However, we need to get a good closed grill and make an exception for this ridiculous agreement—the sooner, the better.