Retired judge to mediate in Oklahoma poultry case

A retired federal judge will now step in as a mediator to settle a longtime-running lawsuit filed by the State of Oklahoma against poultry producers accused of contributing to high phosphorous levels in water supplies in eastern Oklahoma.

The case dates back more than 15 years, when then-Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed the suit, alleging that the poultry industry had caused damage to waters in the eastern part of the state, particularly the Illinois River Watershed and Lake Tenkiller.

Then, in January 2023, Oklahoma Northern District Federal Judge Gregory Frizzell ruled in lawsuit, which dates back nearly two decades. He ruled in favor of the state, but instead of ruling on any penalties, he ordered the two parties to reach a resolution to the matter by March 17. If no agreement was reached, Frizzell stated that he would make a judgement.

Once March 17 arrived, no settlement had been reached, and the state’s current attorney general, Gentner Drummond, gave the parties an additional 90 days.

A hearing had been slated for June 16, but according to a report from the Tahlequah Daily Press, that hearing has been canceled, and the two parties are to now mediate before retired judge Deanel Reece Tacha.

Drummond, speaking to reporters, expressed confidence that Tacha would do well in this endeavor.

“This federal judge, she’s sharp, and she is well-versed in environmental law,” Drummond said.

Drummond previously stated that he thought the poultry industry “has made significant improvements over the years in its litter abatement process.”

An earlier report from The Oklahoman identified the following companies as defendants: Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production, George’s Inc., George’s Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

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