Cushing, Oklahoma (AP) — The fight to clean up polluted Chesapeake Bay has spilled over into the courtrooms of Oklahoma’s highest court, as the state’s highest judge is defending a $10 million contract for the company that is trying to win the right to treat wastewater.
State District Judge Susan Houser sided with Chesapeake, a major water treatment company that’s fought the court’s approval of its proposed wastewater treatment plant.
The ruling could set a precedent for a dozen states, including Oklahoma, to consider whether they should seek court approval to treat their own wastewater for the same purpose.
Houser also said that Chesapeake had failed to prove its wastewater treatment technology is safe and efficient.
It could be years before the plant is fully operational.
The company, which has also sued Oklahoma, says it will use the money to fix the problems it uncovered and restore the watershed.
Chesapeake says the plant would create jobs and boost the local economy by cleaning up pollutants and restoring native species.
But Oklahoma Attorney General Greg Zoeller and environmental groups have argued the plant will destroy native fish habitat and harm the environment.
Hoskins ruling is a major setback for Chesapeake.
The state’s environmental review panel is due to rule on the contract in late May, and the company says it plans to appeal.
Housers decision came as a surprise to some environmentalists, who were skeptical of the company’s claim that the state could safely approve a $5.2 billion project to clean the bay.
Husbands and wives of Oklahoma politicians and business owners have called for an investigation into whether Housher was influenced by her husband’s business interests and the financial interests of the attorney general’s office.
The attorney general is not named as a defendant.
The judge ruled that Housering lacked authority to grant a $9.8 million contract to Chesapeake for a wastewater treatment facility in Cushing that would operate for a year.
The company had sought a court order that would have forced the state to give it permission to use the $10.8 billion in state money for the project.
Horser granted the company a waiver that allowed it to continue to use water treatment technology that had been developed at a state-run water treatment facility.
Cushing Mayor John King and Oklahoma Attorney John Carrigan, who is representing the city, were in court Friday for a hearing on the deal.
They were joined by the city’s attorney, Mark Bittman.
Bittman argued that the city did not have to make any environmental changes to allow Chesapeake to use its wastewater plant.
Chenier told the judge the city has been working to develop an environmental plan that could address the potential impacts of the wastewater treatment project.
Cushing is about half a mile from the proposed wastewater plant, but the city plans to continue working with the developer to make the site attractive to developers.
Bettman said the agreement also includes an agreement to stop any further lawsuits from being filed against the city.
The city and Chesapeake are not obligated to pay any money to the attorney who brought the lawsuit, he said.
The judge agreed.