Inhofe discusses Tar Creek with Obama's EPA nominee
By Wally Kennedy
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he has secured a commitment for Tar Creek funding from Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Inhofe is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Inhofe said in a telephone interview Thursday that Jackson is committed to the completion of the buyout and relocation of residents from the Picher-Cardin area, and after that is done, the continued cleanup of the Picher Mining Field in Northeast Oklahoma.
"She publicly committed to seeing this (the buyout) all of the way through as we knew it would be," he said. "Of course, virtually all of the money is there and is committed now. After all that is over, we are still going to have to do a massive cleanup, and she has committed to that. And I think that's significant because she will be the new EPA director."
Ed Keheley, a Picher resident who has advised the senator and state officials about the Tar Creek site, said: "It's refreshing to see the senator is still pushing to clean up Tar Creek. That's consistent with his commitment back in 2004."
Keheley said it is his understanding that the buyout is 95 percent complete, but that some properties were only recently appraised. Keheley, who has been critical of the second buyout at Picher, added, "I hope they get it over soon because it's been a long, tortuous journey for a lot of people."
The first buyout at Picher helped families with small children leave the site to shield children from lead exposure; the second buyout is focusing on remaining residents.
John Sparkman, head of the Picher Housing Authority and among the first to advocate a buyout at Picher, said Thursday: "I think this shows Senator Inhofe's commitment to seeing this project through. People in this area probably don't realize what a major undertaking this buyout has been.
"The buyout is something you will never be able to fully gauge in terms of the positive impact it has had on people's lives by letting them move from harm's way. It will also prevent any future generations from having to live in such a bad environment. That is something that cannot be measured. The continuation of Senator Inhofe's efforts at Tar Creek will certainly be one of his greatest accomplishments."