Monday, March 31, 2008

Gov. Beebe addresses joint session of Arkansas General Assembly

JOINT SESSION of the Arkansas legislature

Governor Mike Beebe addressed a joint session of the 86th Arkansas General Assembly today.
Governor Beebe Addresses Joint Session

Thank you Mr. Speaker and Mr. President for the invitation to address this joint session of the 86th General Assembly convening for this extraordinary session.
First, let me offer my thanks to all of you for responding to the call, for setting aside your personal and business interests and returning to the Capitol to take up the people’s business once again.
The privilege of service requires some sacrifice because this is a citizen legislature.
And this group has already proven how effective a group of citizens, working together to find solutions to complex problems, can be.
This 86th General Assembly has addressed, to the great benefit of the people of Arkansas, two of this State’s longest-standing, public-policy challenges:
You have approved a budget that sets us firmly on the path toward providing excellence in education for our children, and in doing so earned our release from court supervision and placed us firmly on the path toward excellence in our public schools.
You have cut in half the state’s most punitive and regressive tax, the sales tax on groceries.
Either of these achievements would have been sufficient to mark this group as one of the most accomplished in recent history, but your determination in tackling both issues is a feat of which this group can be very proud.
Today, you come together to address another policy question of historic significance to Arkansas.
At three-tenths of 1 cent per thousand cubic feet, Arkansas’s severance tax on natural gas provides inadequate compensation to the people of this State for the removal of such a valuable, non-renewable natural resource.
Legislators and Governors have wrestled with this issue unsuccessfully for more than 50 years.
We’re a small state, historically poor. Attracting outside investment and economic activity has always been a high priority, and our abundant natural resources have been our greatest lure.
But I believe that in our effort to be hospitable to business interests we have undervalued our resources – particularly our natural gas. They are rare, they are precious and they can only be sold once.
We speak often of managing our natural resources to the benefit of future generations of Arkansans; and in this case, it has never been more important for us to keep our word.
We are selling an asset, and removing it from the Arkansas that future generations will inherit. We must remember that we are negotiating on their behalf and ensure that we are receiving just compensation that can be invested for the benefit of Arkansans – both present and future.
Now, there is a balance that must be struck: The development of the Fayetteville shale play is already paying huge dividends to our State, and we can’t afford to discourage the billions in investment that we anticipate in the coming years.
The jobs alone will generate billions of dollars in economic activity and create millions in additional revenue for the State.
My goal throughout the negotiations with the industry has been to find that middle ground; to provide a solution that is fair to Arkansans but that does not create a disincentive for the investment that the industry is making in our state.
The bill that has been submitted for your consideration does both, and I ask that you give it your support.
This proposal is a rare opportunity to create a new funding source for highway improvement in Arkansas without increasing the tax burden on the majority of everyday Arkansans.
Highways are critical to our economic-development strategy: Good roads are one of the most important things government can provide as incentive for job creation and business investment.
While this solution will not erase the funding gap we face in addressing our highway needs, it will provide much needed capital for maintenance and repair – especially of our bridges – as well as expansion and new construction where we need it most.
We cannot forget that these projects create economic expansion and jobs for our people as well.
I’ve been told, many times, and I know many of you have heard as well, that the money that we appropriated for highways in last year’s general session allowed many contractors to run full crews through the summer – providing both needed highway repairs and jobs for Arkansans.
So this bill is not an “either-or” proposition.
We are encouraging the gas industry to continue to invest in exploration and production, and at the same time creating new economic activity in the construction industry.
It’s a prudent, targeted approach designed to turn one economic windfall into additional expansion of our State’s economy.
Opportunities such as this one appear very infrequently, so when they do arrive, we must make the most of them.
You have already made historic strides toward excellent education for our children and tax relief on the necessities of life for everyday Arkansans.
I call upon you to take one more step, one that 24 legislatures before you could not take, but one that will benefit all Arkansans today, and help build a strong infrastructure for the Arkansas of tomorrow.

Vice Mayor Jordan asks legislators to pass severance tax

Severance Tax

As cities work hard to provide comprehensive transportation programs and fund needed projects, I support Governor Beebe’s natural gas severance tax proposal recently announced by the Governors office. Raising over 14.5 million annually in tax revenues for the municipal aid fund — would allow these severance tax revenues to go towards targeted city streets and an equally a similar amount for county roads thus reducing the further tax burdens on communities like Fayetteville. This is just another step in diversifying available revenues outside of local sales tax collections. I support this severance tax, and below is the communications I sent to our locally elected officials.

I am writing to encourage you to support and vote for Governor Beebe’s proposed legislation to increase the state severance tax on natural gas and dedicate 95% of the revenue as special revenues to be distributed as provided by the Arkansas Highway Revenue Distribution Law, § 27-70-201 et seq. Our constituents deserve a safe and efficient public transportation system, and I know that you share my commitment to doing all we can to achieve that result.

No one can deny that our transportation needs are great nor that the funding for our transportation system in Northwest Arkansas is inadequate to met those needs. As a member of the City Council and as Chair of the Street Committee, I am well aware of both the transportation needs and the construction costs for well designed streets. This legislation will not solve all of our transportation problems, but the revenue would be a significant contribution toward that goal.

Governor Beebe's proposal would generate an estimated $57 million next year and about $100 million annually by 2012. If 95 percent of that revenue is distributed under the Highway Revenue Distribution law, it eventually will mean an additional $14.25 million annually for the Municipal Aid Fund for streets and an additional $14.25 annually for the County Aid Fund for county roads, as well as an additional $66.5 million for state highways.

Thank you for your consideration of my request that you support this important legislation in the upcoming Special Session. I appreciate your dedication to public service, and I look forward to working with you on other issues of mutual concern in the future.

Lioneld Jordan
1600 Arrowhead
Fayetteville , AR 72701

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says Governor calls special legislative session to pass severance tax

Governor calls special session
Posted on Thursday, March 27, 2008
Gov. Mike Beebe issued the proclamation late Wednesday calling the 86 th General Assembly into special session starting Monday at noon to raise the severance tax on natural gas.
The proclamation, commonly referred to as the “call,” states that Arkansas is “rich in natural resources that enhance the economic well-being” but that they must be removed “responsibly and with the appropriate returns to the people.” Beebe, a Democrat, said earlier in the day that he now has 32 votes in the 35-member Senate to pass the tax and 81 votes in the 100-member House.
The measure has bipartisan support with at least six of the eight Republican senators signaling their support and about a dozen likely House yes votes from GOP members.
The administration has forecast that as much as $ 100 million a year could be received from the tax within a few years.
Beebe has said he wants to put 95 percent of that money toward state highways, and city and county roads. The other 5 percent could go for state general revenue.
The tax now collects about $ 660, 000 a year and is based on the volume of gas extracted. Beebe’s plan would make its market value a factor in the tax rate.
Natural-gas production companies pay the tax and will deduct a proportion of the money royalty owners get from them to help pay the tax. The percentage will depend on the percentage of returns that the royalty owners receive, usually about one-eighth.
Natural-gas experts have said the tax won’t be passed on to utility customers’ bills. Beebe’s plan contains a number of exemptions for new wells and for existing wells with low production. They will pay a rate that will be lower than the new rate but higher than the existing one.
Beebe has said some people wanted a higher tax and some wanted a smaller tax and that the final rate and exemptions in his plan were results of compromise with the industry.
Without that compromise, Beebe has said the tax couldn’t get through the Legislature. Under Amendment 19 to the state constitution, the rate of the severance tax cannot be raised apart from approval by the voters in an election or, in an emergency, by a three-fourths majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate. That would be 27 votes in the Senate, 75 in the House.
There are four other items on the special-session agenda.
One has to do with a marriage law passed in 2007 that left open the possibility that girls of any age could get married with their parents’ consent. Legislators have said that wasn’t their intent. Beebe said he’d like to strike that law and defer the cleanup in the state’s marriage-age laws to the 2009 regular session, which will begin in January.
Another issue has to do with a 2007 law that allows Pulaski County school districts to receive state dollars to offset legal fees if the districts are declared by a federal judge to be “unitary” (meeting desegregation requirements ). The law sets a June deadline, and Beebe would like to extend the deadline to November because a federal judge needs more time to consider the matter. Beebe expects the special session to last no more than three days, which is the minimum time needed to pass legislation and follow constitutional requirements in doing so.
Special sessions are generally short. Governors set their agendas and usually try to seek consensus from the Legislature beforehand to avoid drawn-out debate that could kill legislation and end up being a waste of time.
The longest special session in modern times was during the winter of 2003-04 when education funding was the topic. It lasted 61 days.
Special sessions cost the House and Senate about $ 25,000 a day combined, according to the estimates of legislative employees.
The proclamation’s agenda also calls for appropriations to pay the expenses of the special session and to confirm gubernatorial appointments. Hundreds of appointments await consideration, according to Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample.
Arkansas’ severance tax is three-tenths of 1 cent per 1, 000 cubic feet of gas. Set in 1957, it doesn’t take into account growth in the price of gas, which has greatly increased since then.
Beebe’s tax would be 5 percent on the proceeds production companies get on the sale of the gas, minus the cost of delivery.
Natural-gas industry experts have said the cost wouldn’t be passed on to customers’ utility bills because the price utilities pay production companies is largely set by the national market.
The plan calls for a 36-month reduced rate of 1. 5 percent for high-cost new wells and a 24-month reduced rate of 1. 5 percent for all other new wells. Another reduced rate of 1. 25 percent is possible indefinitely for low-producing wells, new or old.
Beebe announced Friday that he would call the special session.
Information for this article was contributed by Charlie Frago and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Majority of gas wells qualify for exemption under Beebe's tax plan

Majority of [Gas] wells qualify for exemptions under Beebe's tax plan

Last Update: 3/25 8:29 am

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - The vast majority of the Arkansas' natural gas wells qualify for exemptions reducing their tax rates under a severance tax proposal to be considered at a special session later this month, according to state data.
Only 5 percent of the state's wells are classified as wells that would pay the full tax rate that has been proposed by Gov. Mike Beebe as a way to fund additional highway improvements, according to numbers provided by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration and the state Oil and Gas Commission.
Beebe last week announced that he would call a special session beginning March 31 to consider raising the tax for the first time since 1957, saying he has more than enough votes necessary in both chambers to pass the tax hike. Beebe's proposal would place a 5 percent base tax on gas-sale proceeds received by producers with lowered rates for some wells. Passing the tax hike requires 27 votes in the Senate and 75 in the House.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Danger of injecting chemicals beneath ground on drilling sites

From: Sue Skidmore []
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 3:28 AM
To: MO-MultiIssue@yahoogroups. com; MO Rural Crisis Center; MPC
Subject: hideous
Importance: High

From: Tom Kruzen []
This article was posted on by our Heartwood friend, Shawn Porter in Arkansas. He alerted us to not only this practice of injecting into groundwater such toxic and carcinogenic chemicals as diesel, benzene, xylene, toluene and ethyl benzene to bring up natural gas but that the USDA Forest Service may allow this practice in the newly proposed oil and gas drilling in the Quachita and Ozark National Forests in Arkansas. This hideous idea allegedly came from the demented mind of dick cheney while he was at Halliburton. Please read the article, funnel your rage to the appropriate political leaders below and think of ways to stop this! Please pass this article on to everyone you know!
-Tom Kruzen, volunteer
Missouri Water Sentinels
The River Reporter
Narrowsburg, New York
March 6-12, 2008
Congress investigates possible water contamination caused by gas well drilling
Local group considers legal action
UNITED STATES — Gas drilling companies in the nation are being accused of injecting toxic chemicals into the ground without government or industry oversight.
The U.S. House of Representative’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used in the creation of gas wells, which allegedly has caused contamination of the drinking water in several locations around the country. In the fracking process, water, sand and other materials are injected deep into underground wells at high pressure to force out gas, which can then be recovered.
Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the committee, began hearings on October 31, 2007 on the subject of diesel fuel and other toxic chemicals being mixed into the fracking fluid. He also sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) asking if the EPA was effectively monitoring a 2003 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was intended to eliminate these injections into the underground sources of drinking water.
Waxman said in the October memo that while the EPA claimed that it was actively monitoring the drilling, “the basis for your statement appears to be less than impressive: a hastily collected set of three e-mails amounting to just half a dozen sentences.”
In the hearings Waxman held, a succession of scientists—a medical toxicologist, a national recognized endocrinologist, a member of Trout Unlimited, a senior policy analyst of a national defense council and several landowners—claimed that gas companies not only injected diesel fuel into the fracking liquid as a part of their drilling, but also injected benezine, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene into the liquid, which in turn contaminated drinking water, causing serious physical ailments in residents.
The Waxman hearings
According to Chemical and Engineering News, which reported on the hearings in a February 8 article, hearing witness Dr. Theo Colborn, a Ph D. in zoology and president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a non-profit group that focuses on health problems from low-dose chemical exposures, said, “The toxic chemicals are employed for fracturing operations and are added to alter the underground strata to allow methane to escape up the well pipe. We have identified 171 products used in Colorado containing altogether 245 different chemicals, 92 percent of which have adverse health effects.”
Dr. Daniel T. Teitelbaum, an occupational physician and toxicologist, in testimony before the committee, said, “There is no data base of those exposed as workers or as residents near the extraction or processing. Although there have been documented health complaints by residents, no government agency has asked for an investigation,” he said. “The fact that neither government nor industry has undertaken these critical exposure/outcome health studies is inexcusable.”
Lack of oversight
Opponents of the drilling process claim that the lack of oversight goes back to an energy policy meeting convened by Vice President Dick Cheney, held back from Congressional oversight, that recommended that Congress exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption was passed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Halliburton, of which Cheney is a former CEO, created the fracking technique.
At the time, an editorial comment from the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (, a non-profit group with the mission of working with tribal, urban and rural communities to protect their homes and the environment, made the following report after studying the procedure of fracturing: “The National Energy Bill currently pending before the Congress includes this exemption. If passed, states, municipalities, and individual property owners will have to bear the burden of any clean-up, health risk and loss of property values associated with ground-water contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.”
Local opposition
A group of residents and friends called Damascus Citizens for Self Government have been attempting to educate residents on the dangers that can accompany gas drilling and fracturing. Upon learning of the Waxman hearing alleging the dangers of the widespread practice of fracturing, the group has contacted renowned environmental attorney Richard Lippes, who served as counsel to plaintiffs of the famous Love Canal case.
“We are in conversation with Mr. Lippes and are examining our options at this time,” said Barbara Arrindell, a spokesperson for the group..
“I have agreed to represent the group and to investigate if the option of going to court would be useful,” Lippes said. “Oil and gas drilling may adversely affect the local environment and we would do whatever is necessary to provide protection to the people and their property.”
Lippes also represents the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition in its fight against the New York Regional Interconnect’s proposal to build a power line through the area.
Representative Henry A. Waxman (D - 30)
DC Phone: 202-225-3976
DC Fax: 202-225-4099
Bond, Christopher S.- (R - MO)
202) 224-5721
Web Form:
McCaskill, Claire- (D – MO
202) 224-6154
Web Form:
Lincoln, Blanche L.- (D - AR
202 224-4843
Web Form:
Pryor, Mark L.- (D - AR)
202) 224-2353
Web Form:
Obama, Barack- (D – IL
202) 224-2854
Web Form:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY)
Phone: 202-228-0282
Fax: 202-224-4451
McCain, John- (R - AZ
202) 224-2235
Web Form:
To find out your legislators, go to:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Green Drinks every first Wednesday at Smiling Jacks behind Dickson Street Bookstore

Wednesday, March 5, 2008
5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
A FIRST-WEDNESDAY-OF-EVERY-MONTH SOCIAL will be at Smiling Jack's Fresh Foods behind Dickson Street Bookstore.
Offering all natural, organic, and locally grown foods, wine, and beer in a cozy college-town restaurant atmosphere.