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Keating signs bill to fund higher ed projects

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Frank Keating signed a bill Tuesday that will divert $38 million from an environmental cleanup fund to pay for research projects at Oklahoma's two largest universities.

The money from the Underground Tank Fund will pay for a weather research center at the University of Oklahoma and a bioterrorism research center at Oklahoma State University.

``This legislation will pay enormous long-term benefits to the state of Oklahoma,'' Keating said. ``Establishing these facilities ... will enable Oklahoma to establish itself as the premier center in the United States for weather- and bioterrorism-related research.''

The proposed weather center will house a number of federal weather facilities under one roof and will provide data on tornadoes and other storms that can save lives, officials said.

A total of $19 million in federal money has been allocated for the weather center, a sum that must be matched by the state.

The center at OSU has developed sensors that can detect bacteria and viruses that could be used by terrorists much quicker than existing technology.

The Underground Tank Fund is financed by a one-penny tax on gasoline and diesel fuel and raises about $25 million a year to clean up contamination caused by underground tanks that leak petroleum products.

The fund has a balance of $19 million and about $17.5 million has been committed to contracts for cleanup work over the next year.

The bill, which was approved by the House on Monday, will dedicate half of the fund's revenue to the research centers for two years, beginning July 1. Afterward, 25 percent of the revenue would go toward the projects until the investment totaled $38 million.

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