OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to steer clear of a cross-border dispute over chicken litter, saying Oklahoma's legal fight is with 14 poultry companies and not the state of Arkansas.
After four years of failed negotiations, Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit last June alleging the poultry companies are legally responsible for pollution of the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma. The lawsuit argues state and federal law is being violated by improper poultry waste disposal practices.
Last November, Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe asked the nation's highest court for permission to sue Oklahoma, arguing the two states should settle the matter under the Arkansas River Basin Compact.
Beebe said the Oklahoma lawsuit would hurt his state's $2 billion poultry industry. He said it was "a state sovereignty issue."
In its filing on Friday, Oklahoma said Arkansas' proposed lawsuit "is nothing more than an attempt by Arkansas to use its status as a state to shield private companies from being held liable for their intentional pollution of Oklahoma's natural resources.
"Oklahoma's lawsuit is not a dispute with the State of Arkansas, despite Arkansas' repeated assertions to the contrary. Oklahoma has not sued Arkansas and Oklahoma's lawsuit does not challenge the adequacy of Arkansas laws."
The filing said Oklahoma "is exercising its sovereign power to protect the health of its citizens and its natural resources from the actions of 14 private companies doing business in both Oklahoma and Arkansas."
Edmondson said the Arkansas action wrongly asserts that the Arkansas River Basin Compact requires Oklahoma to brings its grievances to the Compact Commission before the state can sue the poultry companies.
"Oklahoma's lawsuit is against the poultry companies, not the State of Arkansas," Edmondson said. "Arkansas cannot rewrite the compact at the request of the poultry companies."
He said the Arkansas filing also is flawed because it asks the Supreme Court to decide several issues that are properly before a federal district court.
"The poultry companies and the State of Oklahoma are the real parties in this case, not Arkansas," the Oklahoma official argued. "If the Supreme Court deems it necessary, it can review the rulings of the district court through the appellate process."
Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe criticized Edmondson's claim that the state filed the suit on behalf of poultry companies.
"The State of Arkansas' petition was filed to defend the sovereignty of Arkansas on behalf of the thousands of Arkansas farm families who have no other voice in this matter," Beebe said. "The poultry companies have their own lawyers to look out for their interests."
Beebe said Edmondson's suit tries to jduge Arkansas farmers by the laws of Oklahoma.
"If any state is allowed to impose its law on Arkansans inside Arkansas, it will not just affect poultry farms in Northwest Arkansas, but could be devastating to the livelihood and operation of farms and businesses throughout our state," Beebe said.