Lawyers making closing arguments waited a week for an ill U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell to return to the bench, but the chicken waste trial did come to an end last week.
With no jury in the civil trial, it’s up to Judge Frizzell to decide who wins–the State of Oklahoma that wants to see a ban or limits on how much poultry litter can be spread on farmland in the Illinois River watershed; or 11 well-known poultry companies based in Arkansas who claim they are not responsible for the basin’s water pollution.
If past experience is any indication, Frizzell is a judge who takes his time. After Oklahoma sued the chicken industry, it sought a preliminary injunction against poultry litter disposal. Frizzell took weeks after hearing those arguments before finally ruling against the state. And he has given no indication when he will rule this time.
Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is currently a Democratic candidate for governor, says whatever the outcome in the District Court, the case is certain to be appealed by one side or the other to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
In the closing arguments, Oklahoma painted a picture of its recreational waters being turned into a “green, slimy mess” by the poultry industry, which annually spreads tons of chicken manure on land to eventually be washed into rivers and steams.
The chicken industry, including market leaders Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc., blamed runoff from cattle and the operation of a dozen municipal waste treatment plants for the pollution. Their attorneys said the chicken industry adheres to Oklahoma’s laws and regulations.
The one million acre Illinois River watershed includes Lake Tenkiller, a popular recreation area. Experts at the trial testified that poultry litter runoff contributes to the high phosphorous levels that produce algae in the waters.
The Cherokee Nation has appealed to the 10th Circuit, asking that it be allowed to join the lawsuit on Oklahoma’s side. A decision by a 10th Circuit panel of judges is also pending.