Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for
joining us here on "Horizon." Well, Americans are breathing easier and living healthier
lives since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970. The government credits the Clean
Air Act with significant reductions in air pollutants. Since 1990, lead is down 83 percent,
sulfur dioxide is down75 percent, and carbon monoxide? Well, it's down 73 percent. And
according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the act has led to measurable health
benefits for Americans, including fewer missed workdays and emergency room visits. Yet despite
these gains, a recent decision has some warning those cleaner skies could be filled with smoke.
Here to explain is our Andy Barth. Andy Barth: Well, Rob, here in Oklahoma, rural
fire departments are first on the scene for more than 75 percent of all wildfires. But
a new interpretation of an old ruling between the EPA and Department of Defense had many
worried it could become difficult for rural fire departments to get their hands on dependable,
lifesaving equipment. Andy: It happens nationwide every year — California,
Washington — and right here in Oklahoma. Wildfires burn an average of 160,000 acres
each year in the Sooner State, a number that could be much higher if it weren't for surplus
Army vehicles in rural fire departments. Mark Goeller: Over the years, we've taken
this excess property and surplus property from the military and placed them in fire
departments across the state. Andy: Mark Goeller is the state fire management
chief with the Oklahoma Forestry Services and says even though these surplus vehicles
are vital for wildfire protection, the Department of Defense halted all surplus vehicle sales.
Goeller: On June 17, the military issued a stop order, and we haven't been able to place
any vehicles from the military with the rural fire departments here in Oklahoma.
Andy: Currently, there are nearly 9,000 surplus vehicles and equipment being used by Oklahoma's
rural fire departments valued at more than $160 million — a lot of money, but just a
fraction of the cost if purchased new. Goeller: We have agreements with over 900
fire departments here in the state. The rural fire departments are critical to emergency
services. Jason Miller: Approximately half of my fleet
is part of the forestry program or the DoD program.
Andy: Jason Miller is the fire chief in Luther and says it is fiscally impossible to buy
brand new trucks and equipment for his department. Miller: Being able to go down to Goldsby to
the Forestry Department and pick through these trucks, find good ones, build them here in
the station — they are that important. It just comes down to cost-effectiveness for
us. Without just, you know, absolutely tapping out the city or the town, it would be really,
really hard to do. Andy: And with the constant fire threat in
the state, Goeller says it doesn't take much for a wildfire to literally hit home.
Goeller: Any wildfire that starts has the potential to reach a community. But out in
the rural areas of Oklahoma and across the country, there are many small subdivisions,
ranchettes, a lot of values at risk out there that are, could potentially be impacted. Once
it makes it into the community then you've got, not only the wildlands involved, but
you have structures involved. You've got the potential for fires to move from structure
to structure. Andy: And running a rural volunteer fire department,
Miller says he does everything he can to protect his community.
Miller: We try to find every way possible that we can to get the money, to get the equipment
and do the things and have the things to give our communities the best possible fire suppression
and rescue efforts that we can. Andy: And Goeller says reinstating the program
between the DoD and rural fire firefighters is critical for small departments across the
state. Goeller: This program is vital. It is vital
to the continued success and to the life of the fire departments here in the country.
If they don't have these vehicles, then our response capability across the state, across
Oklahoma, is going to be dramatically reduced. Andy: Now, since the time we met with Goeller
and Miller, the Department of Defense overturned the ruling made from the agreement between
the DoD and EPA — due in great part from outcry from small rural fire departments around
the nation — once again allowing rural fire departments to purchase surplus vehicles to
protect their communities. Rob: Well, certainly some good news for our
rural communities, but not the complete reversal that some had hoped for because now there
is some new ground rules in place. Andy: There are, Rob. In order for these vehicles
to be used, they must remain under the Department of Defense so that they know that they will
be destroyed once they're no longer in use. And that means all of the Oklahoma vehicles
must be tracked and returned to the Department of Defense once the rural fire departments
are through with them. And according to Oklahoma's senior senator, Jim Inhofe, this new agreement
will create more red tape for our local fire departments. And while he believes this is
the best short-term answer to maintain the program with the DoD, Sen. Inhofe says he
will continue to work with his colleagues to address the unnecessary regulations created
by the agreement. Rob: So I guess this is an instance of where
you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Andy: Or at least make it so you're grateful for what you have.
Rob: All right, well keep us posted if anything changes.
Andy: Will do. Rob: Now, when we return, our environment
and our economy from the EPA's perspective. Rob McClendon: Well, when it comes to criticism,
few federal agencies have gotten more of it in recent years than the EPA. Regulations
that were once welcomed are now criticized as misguided federal overreach — that of
an agency that at first was welcomed by both republicans and Democrats alike.
The test is made with a plane flying across the center of a line of checkpoints at a predetermined
speed. Rob: The year 1962 — and Rachel Carson publishes
her book "Silent Spring," addressing the hazards of DDT and other pesticides, focusing attention
on the harm some chemicals may have on the environment. "Silent Spring" and the media
attention surrounding it pushed government to take action. Presidents began adding environmental
issues to speeches and legislative programs. Richard Nixon: Shall we surrender to our surroundings?
Or shall we make our peace with nature? Rob: With Richard Nixon in his second year
of presidency creating the Environmental Protection Agency — better known as the EPA. In the
agency's early years, among many regulations, the EPA banned DDT, established a Clean Water
Act and began phasing out leaded gasoline, improving our water and the air we breathe.
Yet the agency is often shrouded in controversy, especially in more recent years. Oklahoma
and other states battle with the EPA over proposed clean air rules. And this June, the
EPA proposed what has been called its most ambitious air regulation yet, calling for
a 30 percent decrease of power plant emissions by 2030, a ruling that has Oklahoma, along
with eight other states, suing the EPA over the new rules. And while such mandates make
their way through the courts, Oklahoma continues to curb its energy use and greenhouse gas
emissions. The American Wind Energy Association reports that last year more than 14 percent
of Oklahoma's energy was provided by wind power. And just this February, the EPA recognized
Edmond as a leading green power community. So while federal and state officials may still
be at odds over how much is too much protection, the air we breathe and the water we drink
is the cleanest it has been in years.