The wrong approach

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 1, 2017.


Eric Davis is an attorney in the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and the Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group. He represents clients in a range of regulatory and energy matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney C. Eric Davis

Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain – and if some lawmakers have their way, it will be further taxed as it blows through.

For the wind industry, the tax landscape in Oklahoma changed dramatically in 2017. First, the five-year exemption from ad valorem taxes was allowed to expire beginning Jan. 1. Then the Legislature repealed the tax credit for electricity produced from zero-emission facilities powered by wind. These two tax changes represent millions of dollars annually, which will now be applied to mitigate the state’s revenue shortfall.

Now, a third major proposal has emerged: a per-kilowatt-hour production tax on wind energy, a rarity in the United States. At first blush, a production tax on wind energy may seem sensible. After all, natural gas is used to generate electricity, and it is subject to a gross production tax, so why not also impose such a tax on wind? A closer look, however, shows that the comparison is clearly strained.

Presently, the state’s gross production tax, or severance tax, as state law interchangeably refers to it, applies to the production of mineral resources. Such activities are extracting, or severing, non-renewable mineral resources. However, wind is not severed from the land. Theoretically, Oklahoma can benefit from wind energy for as long as the wind blows.

Also, Oklahoma’s gross production tax on mineral production is imposed in lieu of ad valorem taxes. Wind energy is presently subject to ad valorem taxes, which represent a major source of funding for local governments and schools. Oklahoma State University researchers have estimated that, when considering past and forecasted payments for planned projects, the wind industry will pay more than $1 billion in ad valorem taxes to local communities. If a production tax is levied on wind energy in lieu of ad valorem taxes, this could reallocate that revenue away from local communities.

If a production tax were imposed in addition to ad valorem taxes, it would amount to a double-tax on wind energy. This could discourage further capital investment and raise electricity bills for Oklahomans.

Tax policy is not easy. However, imposing this tax on wind energy because others in the energy industry pay a gross production tax is the wrong approach.

C. Eric Davis is an attorney with Phillips Murrah. His practice focuses on clean energy as well as government relations and compliance.

Roth: The next generation utility here in Oklahoma

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 22, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The next generation utility here in Oklahoma

If you have ever played the board game Monopoly, you know that utility spaces are supposed to be safer landing places than say Boardwalk, or even a developed Marvin Gardens. As a kid, I didn’t know what a monopoly was, but I understood the risk and reward of landing on spaces in the make-believe economy that hopefully cost your opponents and spared oneself. And if you were lucky enough to own the Water Works or the Electric Company, you knew they were good investments that would pay for themselves, but that they didn’t offer the same kind of explosive growth possible of other properties.

The same is true today for most of America’s utilities, as they are a steady-as-she-goes investment, usually promising a decent return but a return proportional to the risk. But today’s utilities no longer have the luxury of complacency in an ever-changing world. In Monopoly, each of the two utilities cost $150 each and the rent was 4 times the dice roll if one utility is owned, or 10 times the dice value if both are owned.

Similarly, many of America’s utilities have been acquiring each other and creating shareholder value through size and footprint, but some observers worry these larger monolithic utilities may becoming too big to adjust as needed when the world of energy and electricity are changing so quickly. Some corporate cultures are agile and can be on the front end of an evolving industry and some cannot.

Here in Oklahoma, some of the most agile utilities are proving to be our electric cooperatives, whose nimbleness, local service focus and innovative drive are creating great business incubators for movement into the energy future. I recently learned of one such great example, serving central Oklahoma and based in Stillwater in Payne County. Central Rural Electric Cooperative provides electric distribution cooperative service to more than 20,000 meters through more than 4,000 miles of electrical line in seven central Oklahoma counties. They refer to themselves as “the next generation utility” and describe their mission as:

Central Rural Electric Cooperative is filled with energy-industry game changers, collaborators, risk takers, mountain movers, dream weavers and history makers. We are not afraid to bring ideas to life and inspire those around us….We understand it is our responsibility to embrace our energy future and empower our members to change the world by sacrificing self-interests to achieve the best results.

And they are walking the walk, which is important because they are also serving an area of Oklahoma with significant oil and gas activity ramping up and expecting reliable service. Central has instituted new demand monitoring technologies that provide modern operations in real-time to reduce costs and increase reliability for the local oil and gas activities.

Central has also constructed a new business park and micro-community called Innovation Pointe, which shares new technologies to improve system operations. They’ve even deployed self-healing grid technologies to increase reliability and decrease outages to keep their customers safe.

Central has added new renewable energy in the form of Ten K Solar panels and battery storage technologies (which help to mitigate the intermittency of solar energy) to power the Innovation Pointe campus. The solar power plant, with the help of the Tesla Powerpack battery products, exports extra renewable energy to the whole grid and the system is managed from inside the new building, which achieved LEED Gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council.

This forward-thinking and more importantly forward-moving utility is proof that some monopoly spaces are worth landing on, because their embrace of the future is a sure win for every customer.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Supply and demand for the Oklahoma energy future

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 15, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Supply and demand for the Oklahoma energy future

We Oklahomans are proud producers of products our country and the world needs. We help supply many of the demands of others in the form of our exported wheat, oil, natural gas and clean energy.

More and more, corporate America is showing increased demand for renewable energy and our state’s abundant supply should be attractive for investment and growth for years to come. That is, so long as our state policies do not hurt our potential.

Imagine if we were competing against Kansas for wheat customers around the globe (as we are by the way) and Oklahoma opted to end all of its wheat incentives, while Kansas did not. Kansas would have a market advantage as demand for cheaper supply proves out for Kansas’ cheaper wheat than Oklahoma’s.

The most fundamental concept in economics, and the foundation of any market-based economy, suggests that demand and supply will allocate resources in the most efficient way possible, usually dictated by price. In the wheat example above, Oklahoma losing a competitive advantage to Kansas may leave us with the proverbial chaff, that husky part surrounding the wheat, while the grain remains in Kansas’ economy.

Such may be the case with Oklahoma’s renewable energy future, now that state leaders have acted to eliminate the last incentive for wind energy, while neighboring Kansas and Texas, with similarly strong wind resources, have not. In fact, both Kansas and Texas offer a number of remaining incentives, even though Kansas is facing a similar budget dilemma as Oklahoma.

What is worse, some anti-wind special interests are now even pushing for a new tax on wind energy, which would further harm Oklahoma’s energy potential, worsen our “competitiveness for investment” and would raise every Oklahoman’s monthly utility bill. All the while, America’s corporate leaders are looking for more renewable energy now more than ever. Will they look to Oklahoma and bring their dollars here, or will they follow the law of economics and go where the supply is cheaper?

Here is the coming market. More American companies than ever are directly buying or building their own renewable energy projects. From Facebook and Apple to General Motors and Ford, America’s largest corporations are building their brands around the clean energy future. While some may have philosophical reasons for clean green energy, most companies are still profit-focused with their energy choices and they see the green of renewable power as the cost savings from today’s cheapest form of power. That cheapness will drive their business investment and decisions to other states if Oklahoma allows other anti-wind policies to destroy our cost-competitiveness and future energy potential. That would mean less direct funding to schools that wind pays through property taxes. That would mean less direct payments to Oklahoma farmers and ranchers for leasing their land. And it would mean less jobs in a steady energy industry free of the boom and bust cycles that has whip-sawed our history.

So, my fellow Oklahomans, please watch closely the next two weeks as our Legislature makes choices for or against our future energy potential. These two weeks may very well lay the reality for Oklahoma’s economy and energy vitality for many years to come.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oil flash crash?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 8, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Oil flash crash?

We just had what some energy analysts called a flash crash in oil prices these past few days.

For those of us Oklahomans who are hoping for a strong, robust recovery for the oil and natural gas industries, this past week may have renewed some doubts. And for those Oklahoma legislators who are working on a new budget and praying their revenue estimates are met with a big recovery, they might need to plan for a less certain economic picture in the months ahead.

Friday saw a new five-month low for oil prices, after a 4-percent drop on Thursday and a larger than 3-percent additional drop overnight for U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures. Brent crude prices were similarly down on the global market on worries that rising U.S. output and Libyan crude returning to the market would extend the oversupply picture that has dominated the industry for the last year plus.

In addition, these lows were back to those levels that occurred prior to OPEC’s Nov. 30 announcement to curtail production levels for six months among its members by 1.2 million barrels per day and other major producers like Russia by another 600,000 barrels a day. On May 25, they will meet again to discuss renewing this agreement for another six months.

Other than the idea that a new agreement in Libya may calm that country’s production troubles and return as much as 1.5 million barrels a day later in 2017, the market impact seems to be borne by American production. On Wednesday, our government data showed that our inventories did not drop as much as expected and that American crude production continued to increase, creating a double-whammy to the supply picture. Similar supply news was reported by the Energy Information Administration for natural gas futures, which extended skeptics’ views on its cost recovery.

So what does it all mean? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but we can begin to see the signs that American producers may hold the key to their own industry’s fate more than ever in the last 40 years. Our unprecedented production success over the last decade is how we ended up in this current commodity recession gripping our industries and our state. Moreover, even as OPEC, which used to own the market swings by its own policies and production, works to stabilize the market with supply cuts, similar restraint may not exist here at home.

Thankfully, U.S. economic data is looking more positive than negative, although inertia seems to exist in several areas, and we might be able to power our own economic growth. Perhaps the test for us going forward is whether we can establish long-term stability in supply and demand to strengthen this weakened industry at home or whether we will rush to produce all that we can only to see the low commodity prices negate any economic upswing desperately needed by our producers and the state of Oklahoma’s budget.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Department of Defense and its drive toward renewable energies continues

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 1, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Department of Defense and its drive toward renewable energies continues

America’s largest consumer of electricity is actually the Department of Defense with thousands of facilities and millions of employees.

It’s also the largest employer in the world with over 1.3 million active duty servicemen and women, more than 800,000 members of the National Guard and reservists and more than 750,000 civilians supporting their vital missions here and abroad. And more often than not, their preferred choice of energy is coming from renewable resources.

Now this isn’t something driven by a political or environmental agenda or even a president, it is much more important than that; it’s about enhancing national security pure and simple.

While it’s also been a big economic savings to the military, their statements on the subject remain firmed focused on mission readiness and security. And to that end, newly created teams within the Air Force and other branches are even going after contracts for on-site distributed generation and smart micro-grids, so the military installation can control its own energy destiny in the event a cyberattack takes down the nation’s electric grid.

In addition, this past week saw a new milestone in DOD’s ongoing march toward its reliance upon clean energy, as a first-of-its-kind hybrid complex of wind and solar began commercial operations at U.S. Garrison Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. This, the nation’s largest single renewable energy project, began officially generating its renewable power on April 27, providing more than 50 percent of the annual electric load at this base.

Apex Clean Energy, a Charlottesville, Virginia, clean energy company, which has years of experiencing developing projects in Oklahoma and throughout our region, has partnered with Northleaf Capital Partners to develop, build and own the energy complex comprised of the 50.4 megawatt Cotton Plains Wind facility and the 151.2 megawatt Old Settlers Wind facility, both in Floyd County, Texas, with the Phantom Solar project on-site at Fort Hood.

The idea of marrying these two renewable energy resources is a great one for round-the-clock support to our always-ready military. With solar power often strongest during “the peak” and most expensive parts of the day, and wind power which is available at all times and overnight, the 24/7 nature of our military has a good fit. For us citizen taxpayers, who are footing the bill, we can take solace in knowing we will be made safer and save critical tax dollars all at the same time.

These win-wins should spread across Oklahoma’s many bases, where wind, solar and natural gas are in abundance and where our communities, who support the bases, should also enjoy some local benefits from the large energy investments made within their town and county limits in and around these vital bases.

In the words of the United States Army, “This We’ll Defend.”

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy cybersecurity

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 24, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy cybersecurity

This past week was the 22nd anniversary of the Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19 and as is the solemn custom each year Oklahomans gathered and memorialized those lives lost and those lives changed forever.

In addition, for the third year, the Judge Alfred P. Murrah Center for Homeland Security Law & Policy at the Oklahoma City University School of Law gathered people to study and examine the threats in our world today. As the center says in describing the tragic events of April 19, 1995, “It opened our eyes to the reality that terrorism could strike anywhere, at any time.”

This sad reality has required that we Americans keep our eyes wide open and with the help of experts at the Murrah Center and around the country, vigilance, insight and knowledge are necessary constants today.

At this year’s conference, the issues of cybersecurity in banking, gaming and energy, with the helpful sponsorship from the law firm of Crowe & Dunlevy, brought into focus for a reality check of the threats around us. And in the event you aren’t aware of how often attacks are actually occurring here and abroad, be sure to check out Norse Corp.’s real-time visibility into global cyberattacks website and you too might be shocked at the frequency: map.norsecorp.com/#/.

Like a modern-day version of Missile Command, this site shows and live tracks the attack origins, the attack types, attack targets and countries involved in real time. And it is very freaky, because cyber risks and attacks do not sleep, they do not take weekends off and they certainly don’t quit.

In the energy sector, much is being done to safeguard every step, from production to midstream delivery, to customer consumption and engagement, as every link is a vulnerability. At last week’s seminar, experts from Devon Energy, Continental Resources and Oklahoma Gas & Electric described their own real-world efforts and safeguards in what appears to be a constant evolution of learning, reacting and working to stay safe and a step ahead of these risks.

The U.S. Department of Energy is the pre-eminent national guide for cybersecurity for critical energy infrastructure and energy delivery systems. As DOE says: “…the nation’s security, economic prosperity, and the well-being of our citizens depend on reliable energy infrastructure.” And they work to accomplish these needs through three key areas:

• Strengthening energy sector cybersecurity preparedness.

• Coordinating cyber incident response and recovery.

• Accelerating research, development and demonstration of game-changing and resilient energy delivery systems.

Oklahoma is certainly an energy state, with blessings above and below our red dirt. Our production and delivery of these resources now include once-unimaginable threats of attack from sophisticated computer hackers and attacks from nation-states and rogue actors looking to create havoc in our economy and across the world. Our energy companies are helping to keep our energy systems safe and they need our vigilance too.

So the next time you get a strange email offering you riches from a never-known dead relative in a foreign country, please do not click on the link or forward it to others to check it out, as it may just be the attack that takes out your town’s electricity or the oil and gas well nearby.

As my mother used to say, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” In today’s world of cyber risks, the new mantra may need to be “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a malicious malware virus launched from an anonymous attacker to bring down your household or country.”

But then again, it could just be “a guy sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds,” as a candidate for president once scoffed. Either way, it’s past time to take it serious, especially for the energy sector in America.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Director Jim Roth sourced in article on Oklahoma’s solar energy potential

Jim A. Roth, Phillips Murrah

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth, Phillips Murrah Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice, was quoted in an Oklahoma Gazette article by Laura Eastes regarding solar energy technology and Oklahoma’s potential as a leader in the solar industry.

Read Roth’s comments from the article below:

Row after row of solar panels, which rest perfectly aligned and angled to the west, fill an open field along NW 10th Street in western Oklahoma City. When OG&E’s 2.5-megawatt solar farm began harvesting energy from the sun less than two years ago, the company hawked the farm’s ability to power a one-stop-sign town.

As the sleek metal of the solar panels glistens in the blazing sun, the electric utility company’s aging natural gas plant stands in the background. When it comes to power stations, natural gas is king in Oklahoma, but indicators show solar has a bright and rising future.

“There is a tremendous amount of energy hitting the surface every day and we haven’t yet developed measures to capture it,” said Jim Roth, a director and chairman of Phillips Murrah law firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner. Roth represents solar and wind energy developers for the Oklahoma City business law firm.

“The technology is catching up,” he said. “Oklahoma is uniquely situated in that the best sun penetration happens at the time of day which is the most expensive time in the market. We not only have a lot of opportunity for local use, but we also have the ability to export at the height of the market each day.”

Across Oklahoma’s western border and into the Texas Panhandle are hints of a solar boom. Roth said the major Texas projects foreshadow Oklahoma’s future.

Within Oklahoma, solar energy has caught the attention of utility companies. It’s not limited to the OG&E solar farm in OKC. Public Services Company of Oklahoma’s (PSO), which services areas around Tulsa, McAlester and Lawton, recent long-term plan calls for the addition of solar resources. Additionally, rural electric cooperatives are diving into small-scale solar farms.

“The reality is the technology is there and solar is being implemented all around the country,” Roth said. “I really believe this is our greatest potential — we have such blessings with clean natural gas underground, such blessings with world-class wind and with solar opportunity. Few states, if any, have the trifecta. … Oklahoma is actually perfectly situated for the future which is unfolding.

Read the full article from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Roth: Earth Day in action

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 17, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Earth Day in action

April is a busy time with significant holidays like Passover and Easter.

It’s also a time to celebrate the reawakening of the natural world around us as the spring equinox springs fauna and flora to life around us. And with Earth Day, April 22, approaching, it’s a great time to jump up, get out and put our lives in action for the world around us.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, although a growing consciousness had been building in America for decades. Soon the passage of landmark acts, such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act brought national prominence to these efforts. By the 1990s, Earth Day had spread across the Earth, activating more than 200 million people in over 140 countries and creating a true global awareness of the world we share in common.

So as we approach the 47th birthday of Earth Day in America, we can take great comfort in the tremendous progress that has actually been achieved here and abroad over these years and yet we have serious concerns that continue to mount and are causing grave, yes, grave consequences.

• Forests: Our planet is currently losing 56 acres of forests every minute, amounting to over 15 billion trees every year. These fading forests are necessary to combat climate change, de-carbonize our atmosphere, sustain important species and provide shelter and security to people across the globe. Former forested areas are now prone to massive erosion and displacement of cultures and animals worldwide.

• Species: Earth’s species are now going extinct faster than ever before and we have entered what credentialed scientists have described as a “sixth mass extinction brought on by global human activity.”

Whether you are motivated by faith, as many faithful people believe we have a calling to honor the world provided by the Creator, or whether you are motivated by a humanistic call to save lives from climate harm and disease brought on my droughts and famine, there are a few easy and obvious actions steps you can take to make a difference:

• Plant a tree or donate to plant a tree.

There are a number of national and world charities that do great work to reforest our planet and your modest donation can go a long way. Likewise, visit a local nursery and plant a new tree in your own yard, with your family’s help, and create a daily reminder of the tree of life out your own front door.

• Reduce your footprint.

There are many online tools to measure your ecological footprint to learn how to reduce your footprint on the planet. Here is a great link to get started: www.earthday.org/reduce-footprint-take-ecological-footprint-quiz.

• Stop using disposable plastic.

Make the decision today and simply stop. Carry your own bag into stores, insist on recycled paper bags or simply carry items in your arms the old-fashioned way, but however you stop using plastic, just stop. They are filling up landfills, polluting oceans and entangling and killing animals everywhere.

• Believe in science and let your voice be known.

There are activities all around this country, including a March for Science on the National Mall on Earth Day to fight efforts to silence science and instead create community engagements and knowledge sharing. As my partner likes to say: “science doesn’t care if you believe it or not, it just is science.”

This Earth Day is a great time to engage with yourself, your children, your family, your church, community and neighbors to do deliberate acts of good to help save Mother Earth. She really needs our help.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 3, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

As travelers enter into Oklahoma on one of 11 major highways from other states, they are greeted by a beautiful red granite monument featuring the Oklahoma state seal and the word Oklahoma.

However, to be fair, and based upon recurring actions from our state leaders, truth in advertising may require we amend the signs to read “Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor.”

“Caveat emptor” is a Latin phrase meaning “let the buyer beware.” Similar to the phrase “sold as is,” this phrase suggests that the buyer assumes the risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or be defective. The phrase is actually shortened from a longer legal concept, which is: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit, meaning “Let the purchaser beware, for he out not be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”

Now we Oklahomans surely pride ourselves on being good people who will look you in the eye and bind ourselves through our word and a handshake. Moreover, we should not need Latin phrases to prove our trustworthiness, or more accurately excuse our lack thereof. But times they are changing if the actions around our floundering state budget continue to erode the confidence of our own citizens and those precious investment dollars we invite in to help grow our state. Simply put, our erratic debtor’s behavior is making us a risky place to do business, and whether our welcome signs declare it or not, our legislative actions are spreading the word beyond our borders.

Last year, numerous bills were introduced targeting existing tax credits and other incentives, causing investors and companies in energy and aerospace to purportedly remove Oklahoma as a place to grow, expand or invest. Then near the end of the session, and without much warning, quick action immediately eliminated a tax subsidy for oil and gas wells that had become unprofitable due to the massive and sudden downturn in energy prices. Yes, an argument can be made that the budget hole necessitated drastic action, but to that operator that kept employing Oklahomans it probably felt like being kicked while you were already down.

Now this year, similar sudden action has been taken by both the House and the Senate to rip an existing tax incentive away from projects that are actually under construction in Oklahoma with the wind energy industry. Oklahoma invited billions of dollars in and now claims we cannot keep our word even though changing our word has zero effect on this coming year’s budget.

Standard & Poor’s global ratings announced in March it has lowered our bond rating a notch stating: “The downgrade reflects our view that persistently weak revenue collections – leading to a declared revenues failure for the remainder of the fiscal year (2017) – have further compounded the state’s challenge to achieve structural balance in fiscal 2018.”

These are desperate times and as is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. Our failed funding of public education is a crisis, which reverberates through our lives and economy in multiple ways beyond dropout rates and low test scores. It means higher incarceration rates and socialized expenses. It means greater poverty rates, hunger and divorce. It is a crisis and must be solved. We need steady, structural change to create revenue for our state’s needs.

However, to be erratic toward investment dollars, which we desperately need to grow our state towards more stable times, is a risk that can forever impair our state’s fullest potential. If we have become a credit risk, lenders will deploy their capital in more reliable states and the downward spiral continues here through less financing, fewer company expansions, and higher costs of debt, fewer energy projects and fewer jobs.

While desperate times may in fact exist, we Oklahomans should not ever trade in our good name. Not for an annual budget hole, not for political pressure, not for anything.

Others are watching our words and actions and they may rewrite our welcome sign for us.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: OKC in top 10 U.S. cities for solar potential

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

OKC in top 10 U.S. cities for solar potential

Google’s “Project Sunroof” program just expanded into every state in America to ascertain which areas are most suitable for solar power and not surprisingly sunny Oklahoma, and specifically sunny Oklahoma City, came out in the top 10 cities across this great country. While Houston was ranked No. 1, Oklahoma City achieved the eighth-best spot, besting Dallas and Albuquerque to round out the top 10.

Overall, the expanded analysis concluded that 80 percent of all American rooftops assessed are suitable and can technically benefit from the installation of solar panels for energy generation. That is an astounding reality and speaks to the coming enormity of solar energy for our country’s future, especially as technology is improving fast and prices are dropping precipitously.

Curious about your own home’s potential? Please check out the project website and simply put in your ZIP code at: www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0.

My own home was analyzed and shows the potential for at least $3,000 in estimated savings over 20 years due to:

• 1,695 hours of usable sunlight per year, based on day-to-day analysis of weather patterns.

• 352 square feet available for solar panels, based on 3-D modeling of my roof and nearby trees.

• Recommended solar installation size of a 4.75-kilowatt system that could provide more than 21 percent of my electricity consumption (in reality I would probably size it even larger to live freer from dirtier electricity).

All of this great analysis is free and provided using Google Earth and Google Maps technology to build specific 3-D models by assessing weather, trees and other factors that affect your roof’s potential to the sun’s exposure. It was fascinating to see it actually illustrate my own home’s roofs and the analysis specifics, based upon my electricity consumption.

And while it doesn’t yet speak to the local policy issues impacting these equations, such as the fact Oklahoma utilities aren’t yet required to pay homeowners “fair value” price for the energy that your rooftop system may “export” back to the grid for use by others, it does illuminate many of the basics that can get your analysis started. The website even lists solar providers in your area so you can take the next step to have industry experts visit your home and help calculate your system options, payback timelines and any local, state or federal incentives that might help.

In addition, as an aside, please know that the future is looking bright for Oklahomans to adopt more solar energy, as just last week the Oklahoma Corporation Commission voted to block a utility’s request to raise charges on rooftop solar customers. The case centered on the reality that when you study the economics, neighbors with rooftop solar energy are actually providing greater benefit to their neighbors through exported energy than those customers themselves cost the system to tie into the grid. That helps Oklahoma move from its current ranking of 48th in solar adoption toward the enormous potential we have as Oklahoma City ranked eighth suggests.

What are you waiting for? Chances are really good the sun will come up again tomorrow.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Pushing American ingenuity forward

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 20, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Pushing American ingenuity forward

Two cars leave Detroit at the exact same time, traveling 60 miles per hour, headed to drive through every state in the continental United States over the coming years.

Car A begins and maintains a steady 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency during every year of its journey, while emitting 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over eight years. Car B begins year 2017 with 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency and adjusts upward each year to a level of 54 miles per gallon by 2025, while emitting only 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide during the same eight-year period.

Now unlike those typical rate-time-distance math questions, this presents a more direct question for the American consumer: Which car would you want to own?

For me, and my family’s budget, the answer is Car B.

Moreover, perhaps the bigger question, the great unknown with the scenario above that is actually beginning to play out in national politics today, is: Which car will be available for you from an American manufacturer?

That answer seems more likely to be Car A, if “Detroit” gets its way.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards are American regulations, first passed by Congress in 1975 in reaction to the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. These regulations exist to improve the average fuel economy of cars and “light trucks,” including trucks, vans and SUVs, produced for sale in America. The calculations and mathematical formulas for setting the CAFE standards have evolved over time and since 2012, the standards are determined through an inverse-linear formula reflecting the footprint of various vehicles by fleet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates CAFE standards and the Environmental Protection Agency measures vehicle fuel efficiency. Congress specifies that CAFE standards must be set at the “maximum feasible level” given consideration for: technological feasibility; economic practicality; effect of other standards on fuel economy; and need of the nation to conserve energy.

I wish that Congress would actually include a fifth consideration for the “need for American consumers to save money” or at least “need for American ingenuity to be pushed forward.”

While it’s probably true that most American consumer behavior is driven by pure economics, it has also been true that Americans will buy big gas guzzlers unless and until they can’t afford the largesse of that vehicle’s gas consumption. And the same is true, that many Americans will search out cars in the market that meet their budget-conscious needs too, as has been evident in the past decades as Japanese imports with higher fuel economy, better safety records and less maintenance costs began a strong foothold into the American market. Meanwhile, most American car manufacturers fought innovation and regulation, including fighting early versions of electric cars. I’m old enough to remember that was the first time that Detroit needed a taxpayer bailout.

So please pay close attention to the “Detroit 3” asking the president to reopen the new 2016 “Midterm CAFE Standards” and whether their reasons are to benefit the consumer or themselves. And although the 2025 model year target of 54.5 miles per gallon may seem tough, there is no doubt that the increasing fuel efficiency standards are a direct benefit to your families’ bottom line, to our collective energy and national security and to the arc of American ingenuity.

Lets’ not take our foot off the accelerator now.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Storm clouds and a silver lining?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 13, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Storm clouds and a silver lining?

As Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry looks ahead, cautiously optimistic into 2017 and beyond, it seems there are reasons to be hopeful and still causes for worry. That dual reality has played out already in 2017 and especially within the past week.

As the Oklahoma state budget indicates, the oil and gas patch has been going through a very rough patch for the past few years. And as a country, American oil and gas production has remained steady, albeit more productive than the market can bear. Hence the oversupply and low-price reality exacerbating the industry these past few years.

Where have we been since the high of $110 per barrel of oil in 2014? Well it’s been a rocky road for sure. And 2016 can perfectly illustrate that bumpy journey.

At the beginning of 2016, the U.S. benchmark saw a nearly 13-year low with prices per barrel of oil falling below $27. Yes, that’s less than a quarter of the 2014 price high and no wonder many companies got slammed hard, including bankruptcies and reorganizations to survive. Then a rebound began, due in large part to optimism around production control announced by OPEC and its collaborators, as the rebound more than doubled the price of crude. 2016 saw the U.S. benchmark futures achieve the biggest annual gain in seven years, including an 8-percent gain in December alone.

And as the industry rolled into 2017, hope continued to build that the low commodity price storm clouds may be dissipating. Rig activity is building, some companies are announcing expanded capital programs and cautious smiles are beginning to reappear.

Volatility seemed to be leveling out, as oil traded within a $4 range over the past two months, creating the smoothest period for oil prices since 2014. But then a thunderhead popped up quickly and rained some doubt again for the industry, and prices tumbled for oil and for publicly traded companies directly involved.

Last Wednesday and Thursday saw oil futures fall over 7 percent in two days, sliding back under $50 per barrel as worries continue. Storage data revealed near record highs and suggestions that a rush to produce could further flood the market and continue downward pressure on prices. And an industry desperately in need of balance is being reminded that most factors impacting their industry are beyond their control.

What is more likely within the industry’s control, the cost of doing business, may be the silver lining in all of this stormy experience. Here’s what I mean.

Oklahoma producers have become all too familiar with feast and famine over the past decades. And the smartest amongst us seek out cost efficiencies through the drill bit at times such as these. Through deployed innovation and cost savings implemented structurally in the production processes, many Oklahoma producers are learning to create more with less. And as the industry picks up, with labor demands tightening, land lease prices increasing and energy service companies in growing demand, the exploration and production companies that have implemented price discipline in their own internal practices should weather any coming volatility. It is estimated that about one-third of a well’s costs are on the drilling side, with the remaining two-thirds being for the well’s completion costs. Oklahoma’s companies and Oklahoma’s SCOOP, STACK and the NW STACK plays are going to be laboratories for whether innovative producers can not only compete, but succeed in the new normal of external price pressures.

All of Oklahoma needs them to succeed.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Right-wing social engineering?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Right-wing social engineering?

Not long ago American conservatives professed free-market solutions and an economy without job-killing regulations that pick winners and losers, yet those principles seem to be a thing of the past when it comes to clean energy these days.

To be fair, the American economy does not really meet the actual definition of free market, which according to Dictionary.com is “An economic system in which prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation or fear of monopolies.”

Also, perhaps because much of America’s electricity sector is highly regulated, either as a monopoly or something very close to it, but whatever the reason, 2017 is seeing an unprecedented level of activity attempting to interfere with energy markets.

All across America conservative lawmakers have been introducing a number of bills and legislative efforts to block, tax, halt, hobble and hurt the economics of and markets for clean energy. Here is just a sampling from a few states in 2017:

Wyoming – Nine legislators (two senators and seven representatives, all Republicans, mostly from coal-producing counties) have introduced a new measure that would forbid Wyoming utilities from acquiring any electricity from wind or solar energy projects by 2019, regardless of the fact that those resources are becoming cheaper than traditional fossil fuel. The bill would levy steep fines on utilities if they continue to provide “non-eligible clean energy” for their electric service.

By the way, Wyoming generates and consumes mostly coal-powered electricity, which accounted for roughly 90 percent of its electricity in 2016.

North Dakota – Republican Sen. Dwight Cook introduced a measure (Senate Bill 2314) to impose a moratorium on wind energy development through 2019 and he used a procedural maneuver called a hog-house amendment that erases an existing bill and rewrites it so that the public can’t comment on the proposal because hearings already have been held on the original measure. And even though this tactic may stink to high heaven, a North Dakota Senate committee approved it this week in a 4-3 vote. North Dakota is a coal state and is home to seven coal plants, where it exports almost 70 percent of its total electricity generation to neighboring states.

Oklahoma – Republican legislators have introduced more than 60 bills about wind energy and the governor’s State of the State budget address included a proposed new tax on wind energy, which would be the highest in the nation at $5 per megawatt-hour of electricity on every customer’s utility bill. Granted, Oklahoma has a severe budget dilemma, but this electricity tax idea noticeably does not include any similar tax provisions for out-of-state coal or in-state natural gas, which are still the largest parts of Oklahoma’s electricity portfolio.

So what is going on? Why have conservative policymakers seemingly abandoned their core economic free-market philosophies to push regulations designed to put the hurt on clean energy?

It’s especially odd when you read the 2016 GOP platform on regulation, which states:

Regulation: The Quiet Tyranny – Over-regulation is the quiet tyranny of the “Nanny State.” It hamstrings American businesses and hobbles economic growth.

A possible answer? Coal energy is on the ropes and its sympathizers know that desperate times may call for desperate measures. Nevertheless, no matter how many conservative nannies pop up across the country to push to save coal, the power of economics, like water, will flow to their logical outcome over time.

And for us Oklahomans, that is actually a good thing, because clean-burning, (overly) abundant (and cheap) domestic natural gas is the greatest, single market effect pushing coal to the ash heap on energy history. It will not be immediate, so please do not celebrate or panic, but it is real and it is here to stay. Free-market or not.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Florida taxes oranges?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 13, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Florida taxes oranges?

If you were to read a headline that the state of Florida was looking to add a 25-percent tax to the price of oranges, you might scratch your head and wonder why they would intentionally hurt one of their largest industries. In Florida, agriculture is second only to tourism.

Such was my reaction when Oklahoma state leaders unveiled an idea this past week to tax their way out of a recurring budget shortfall dilemma by proposing a new tax on Oklahoma’s wind energy, thereby raising the cost of every single Oklahoman’s monthly utility bill. Wind energy accounted for roughly 20 percent of the state’s total electricity last year, so you can do the math about an increase to 20 percent of your electricity fuel bill.

The proposed $5 per megawatt-hour of wind power generation amounts to an approximate 25-percent increase to the cost of wind power, which is now being developed and sold in Oklahoma at around $20 per Mwh.

It’s also interesting to note that only one other state in America has a tax on wind production and Wyoming, where coal is king, has a $1-per-megawatt-hour tax, a whole one-fifth of Oklahoma’s proposed new tax rate.

Oklahoma has enormous energy blessings in the form of natural gas, wind and oil. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration updated its state rankings and has Oklahoma third in the country in natural gas production and fifth in crude oil production. Oklahoma is now also ranked third in wind power with 6,645 megawatts of wind capacity as of the end of 2016, just surpassing California and now trailing only Texas (20,321 MWs) and Iowa (6,917 MWs).

It’s true what Oscar Hammerstein wrote about Oklahoma in our fabled state song, “…where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet,” yet we probably aren’t “doin’ fine” if we are so desperate to tax one of our leading industries, 25 percent to just make budget.

There’s a better way, if you think there is a necessity to push new taxes on electricity generation. There’s an Oklahoma way. Develop a tax approach that makes pollution more expensive, not Oklahoma’s clean energy. And this is an approach being pitched nationally by a large group of prominent, conservative Republicans, who believe it’s time to tax carbon, a real villain, rather than American energy itself.

Former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, business leaders like Rob Walton, former chairman on Wal-Mart, and many others were in D.C. this month meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other leaders to detail their blueprint for a $40-per-metric-ton tax on carbon dioxide pollution, with the price escalating over time. And yet the policy would actually protect low-income Americans from higher energy bills, unlike Oklahoma’s proposed wind electricity tax. Under Baker’s proposal, the projected $200 billion to $300 billion in annual revenue from the carbon tax would be distributed to households, by quarterly checks, from the Social Security Administration. It is estimated that families of four would receive about $2,000 a year in payments to them, not from them.

And through it all America would be transitioning, even more quickly to a cleaner energy economy and leading the world.

Oklahoma could lead also by a similar approach, rather than hobbling one of its leading industries, with large investments in the state, by targeting wind. We should target negative aspects of human behavior; such is the justification for increasing cigarette taxes, right?

An Oklahoma pollution tax would make winners out of our state’s cleaner-burning natural gas and wind industries, would drive greater production and demand for both and would in turn reduce health care costs to families and businesses by reducing harmful pollutants in our air. We would send less hard-earned Oklahoma money to Wyoming for imported coal, where we are buying their schoolbooks instead of our own. We would in turn incentivize Oklahoma’s energy future by creating a growing market, not a shrinking one.

“Florida taxes fattening fried potatoes” makes more sense to me than “Oklahoma taxes its own wind.”

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Make American streams dirty again?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 6, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Make American streams dirty again?

If you were asked whether you favored clean streams and waterways for America, you would probably agree. But if the question were framed more political, such as do you favor the repeal of job-killing regulations that have impacted coal miners, would your opinion change?

Well either way, Congress has begun, as one of its very first acts this year, to repeal, perhaps forever, a new regulation to keep coal companies from dumping their mining waste into America’s waterways. It was approved within the last months under the Obama administration and so by U.S. law it is subject to revisit by Congress under the “1996 Congressional Review Act.” The Congressional Review Act allows for the repeal of recently finalized regulations if the House and the Senate, by simple majorities, and the new president agrees. And strangely enough, once repealed under the CRA a regulation, or anything similar to it, cannot ever be approved in the future. But enough about process and how it can happen, it seems to me that America should be more focused on if it should happen. Here’s why.

The Stream Protection Rule was finalized by the Department of Interior on Dec. 19 after years of development and public input. According to the department, the rule is intended to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of American forest by creating a buffer zone between mines and nearby waterways, to protect drinking water and to require coal companies to restore streams and return mined areas to the conditions before the mining activity. Coal’s supporters have been vehemently opposed to this rule, describing it as unnecessary and a duplication of the existing Clean Water Act and they are taking no chances to get it repealed, while acting like the repeal alone could help prop up a declining coal business.

But the reality is that America’s electric sector is moving beyond its former coal-dominant days, towards cleaner-burning natural gas and renewables. Across America, over 300 coal plants have been retired over the last decade alone and more will continue to come offline. And that’s good news for states like Oklahoma, which are blessed with more natural gas and renewable potential than we could ever use ourselves. It’s also great news for anyone with lungs, because the reduction in air pollutants has been significant as older polluting coal plants go offline.

The cost for losing the protections from the Stream Protection Rule is great and irreversible. They are so, because the rule is focused on a practice of mining that involves blowing the tops off of America’s mountains and dumping the mining rock, soil and debris, or overburden, off the mountain and into nearby waterways, damning them up and changing the water quality and ecosystems forever.

Mountaintop mining is a method of coal mining used mostly in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States, where explosives are used to blow up about 400 vertical feet of the top ridges of mountains to reveal coal seams underneath. Then those seams are mined and this higher-sulfur coal is shipped to be burned mostly in the states around Appalachia.

It’s not just about jobs. We Americans should want all Americans to have the opportunity for decent jobs that afford healthy, dignified lives for the workers and their families. And we should want today’s working generations and the coming generations to be in a growing pipeline of jobs that will sustain them throughout their working life. We should resist trying to prop up a fading, and sometimes dangerous, industry when we can help those workers transition to cleaner industries that don’t pollute our rivers, streams and bodies. We can also commit ourselves to protecting the amazing landscapes and purple mountain majesties that bless much of our country’s land. America has that ability if it looks forward, rather than back.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: We need more energy markets, not fewer

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 30, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

We need more energy markets, not fewer

Oklahoma’s energy blessings far exceed our own state’s needs and demand, which is why we have long sought markets beyond our borders.

We typically export our state’s largest commodities, especially natural gas, and we have become optimistic about global markets opening up to help take some of the massive over-supply that the American shale renaissance has helped create. A fight with our neighbors in Mexico is not good for Oklahoma, our economy or the promise of moving past the current recession that has gripped our state.

Since 2009 to now, U.S. pipeline exports of natural gas everywhere have doubled and almost all of that growth has been from exports from the U.S. to Mexico. In fact, since 2015, Mexico accounts for more than one-half of all U.S. exports of natural gas. Daily average pipeline exports now exceed 3.5 billion cubic feet per day, which is 85 percent above the previous five-year-period average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Much of Mexico’s growth in natural gas consumption has been attributed to the growth in Mexico’s domestic electricity demand and the fact that Mexico, like the United States, has been choosing cleaner-burning natural gas for its power plants. Northern Mexico is particularly growing and the demand is expected to continue. In fact, Mexico announced in 2015 a five-year plan to significantly increase its pipeline infrastructure with 12 new pipelines over 3,200 miles, to allow for greater importation of American natural gas for its energy needs. As of today, contracts have been awarded on seven of the 12 pipelines, including a 2.6-billion-cubic-feet-per-day capacity pipe from southern Texas to Mexican states along the Gulf of Mexico.

We should want these markets to grow and we should want this infrastructure to access the massive supply available here in America. Those two things can directly benefit Oklahoma and the many producers who call Oklahoma home, regardless of where they produce.

This month USA Today ran an article that described how “six of the eight top oil-pumping states hit recession,” and the article quoted S&P saying about Oklahoma, “even modest economic softness could have prolonged negative effects.”

We already know that our state budget and economy are in peril because of the massive downturn in oil and gas commodity prices, which have led to serious drops in tax revenues. It is suggested that the 2018 budget will be off another 12.6 percent less spending capacity from even this year’s reduced budget.

Now is not the time to play political games with a neighbor and customer that accounts for such significant growth in our ability to export American and Oklahoma energies. Our economy and our national security are both better served by growing foreign markets for American goods.

Or as President Ronald Reagan said on May 16, 1987: “We should be trying to foster the growth of two-way trade, not trying to put up roadblocks, to open foreign markets, not close our own.”

Let’s throw that idea up against the proverbial “wall” and see what sticks today.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The energy baseline

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 16, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The energy baseline

The following information is proven by independent, empirical data provided from the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration within the U.S. Department of Energy and is not “fake news,” although it may not jibe with the conventional wisdom created by political theater: American oil production has experienced the biggest increase in history under President Obama’s tenure, up 87 percent.

Don’t believe it? Check out the actual data between 1920 and 2016: www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPUS1&f=M.

Now to be fair, not all the credit or blame for America’s energy picture can be attributed to any incumbent president, although most observers would say that more often they get the blame than any credit.

The combination of advances in technology like deep horizontal drilling and hydraulic well stimulation has unlocked massive amounts of previously unreachable reserves. Also, high energy prices had attracted a good deal of investment in this industry, which also helped drive exploration and production. And it might even surprise you to learn that production is also up on federal lands, which did require the approval of the Obama administration.

The same real-life data also proves that “clean energy” production, in the form of renewables and even energy efficiencies, have increased at historic rates, almost tripling during the past two terms. Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, cleaner-burning, abundant, American natural gas has replaced old, dirtier coal plants and transformed the power generation sector.

Yet, if you tuned into the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 campaign for president, you may have left disillusioned about America’s energy picture in spite of the facts. Signs reading “Trump digs Coal” may have helped persuade West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio voters, but the winning economics of cheaper natural gas today may trump any federal effort to prop up yesterday’s coal over the next four or eight years. Also, America now employs more people in solar energy alone versus coal, let alone the many other forms of renewable energy like wind, hydro and biomass.

The state of our country’s energy production reality is strong, and growing. And the gains and direction achieved over the last two terms have all benefited our native Oklahoma as well, with historic growth in the forms of energy with which we are blessed.

As America undergoes a change in presidential administrations, it will be interesting to see what detours from these advances are pushed and what change may occur to the current trajectories. And as it relates to the unique combination of national security and economic prosperity achievable by greater domestic oil production and less imported foreign oil, please follow the facts to see what it may mean for you, your family, your business, your state and your country.

It will be important to recall the energy benchmark of predecessors to measure whether the new guy outperforms the previous guys, as it relates to energy independence. When President Richard Nixon, in his second term, famously declared the need for “energy independence within 10 years,” America was importing 35 percent of its petroleum. Nearing the end of oil-friendly Texan George W. Bush, America was importing nearly 60 percent of its total petroleum consumption from foreign sources and now with President Barack Obama it’s down to 24 percent.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Let it snow

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 9, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Let it snow

Snow: (noun) a precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius. (Merriam-Webster)

Snow seems to be something that people either love or hate. I love it. In fact, snowfall seems to trigger some inner kid in me, forever long as I can remember, that allows me to enjoy the beauty of it and even admire the way it can slow the hectic world around us even if just for a day. As a kid in the 1970s, I enjoyed making igloos that would last for days and weeks around Kansas City, where I grew up and sledding was also a fun experiment with gravity and speed.

And I recognize that some people really aren’t fans of snow and winter weather. To some it’s just dangerous and an interruption to school, work and life. But there are reasons that all people should welcome snow and what it means for our world. Here’s what I mean.

If you eat you should welcome snow, as it’s a vital part of agriculture production in many parts of America and beyond. Our farmers need snow to provide critical moisture to fields ahead of the planting in the spring. Once it melts it’s providing irrigation across all parts of a farmer’s field, even those areas beyond the reach of irrigation systems.

And it’s even more necessary to help blanket winter crops like Oklahoma’s winter wheat, providing a snow blanket of protection from those extremely cold days impacting the fall plantings. Agricultural shortages, as we’ve seen from drought conditions across parts of our country, are a direct hurt on those producers and an indirect hurt to your family’s budget.

If you enjoy nature you should welcome snow, as its thermal insulation helps many species dig snow caves for hibernating through the winter. Fresh snows, which have a high percentage of trapped air, help to reduce heat transfer and provide great insulation for many animals to survive their cold winters.

If you like a little quiet around you then you certainly must enjoy how fresh snow can lessen sound waves as the snow absorbs snow at the surface. You can probably remember how quiet life feels when you walk outside into a fresh snow. It’s a rare chance to turn down the volume around us.

And beyond these more immediate, obvious positives of snow and snowfall impacting our daily lives, even more significant benefits of snow are how it serves as Earth’s sunblock and water source for our entire planet’s sake.

If you’ve ever looked down at snow on a sunny day you too know that it really reflects the sunlight back off the ground. This may be a nuisance to anyone without sunglasses on, but this reality is critical to helping cool the planet, something that must happen in these winter months or Earth’s climate risks accelerate even faster. And as daylight hours increase toward the spring, late winter and spring snowfalls are even more important as a sunblock, albeit they are becoming rarer over the last 50 years.

Finally, snowmelt from layers of packed snow that have accumulated in mountain regions are one of the primary sources of fresh water on Earth and here in America. It is estimated that our Western states may get as much as 75 percent of their water supply from these snowmelts and even the East Coast areas benefit from the same life-sustaining annual thaw.

So whether you may fear that next snowfall because of traffic worries or you bounce out of bed happy to enjoy a day of play, please know that those tiny frozen water molecules blanketing the Earth are critical to our very survival. Plus, they can be a lot of fun for a kids of all ages.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: One-eyed vision?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 19, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

One-eyed vision?

Proverbs 29:18 KJV tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

And while there is debate among theologians about certain meanings and interpretations over the centuries, the underlying notion of vision leadership and adherence to it leading to happiness rather than to perish is clear. Equally important to this idea, I believe, is that the vision must be clear, complete and visible with both eyes.

Such is possibly not the case for Oklahoma legislators responsible for creating the vision for Oklahoma’s future. Our 2017 legislators will be asked to digest recent recommendations of public policy from the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, yet the written word is but one-half of the story; one eye on some facts, with a blind one to the rest of the story, so-to-speak.

Here’s what I mean. On Dec. 15 the IEC submitted its report on 11 state economic tax incentives, all reviews of which were performed by an out-of-state firm (PFM) and submitted in November. The report suggested six “retains,” three “reconfigures,” one “allow to sunset” and one “repeal.”

Interestingly enough, the commission voted to accept all recommendations, except they specifically rejected the one “repeal,” thereby telling the Legislature to somehow maintain, in some form, all 11 state economic tax incentives. This may be a tough sell for a Legislature that will be dealing with yet another declining revenue picture and shrinking state budget; early estimates are $500 million less in the coming year.

Yet, our Legislature should take pause at this report, as their actions regarding it will either grow or diminish the state’s vision for years to come. And while I have tremendous respect for the commission members tasked with this difficult analysis, especially considering the short crunch time they had, I have greater concern that our Legislature may rely upon it without their own two-eyed, deeper thinking to get these issues right for Oklahoma.

I work in energy law and I also work in wind energy issues. And from this vantage I know that a full economic analysis of the costs and benefits of any energy tax structure/incentive/treatment must analyze both the local and state impacts. Such is not the case with this firm’s state-focused report to the IEC, and therefore such is not the case with the IEC’s report to the Legislature.

And while PFM admitted it didn’t analyze anything other than calculating costs to the state, some of the crucial failures of their one-eyed approach are:

• The analysis fails to take into account local impacts (schools, counties, cities, landowners), where the majority of the benefits of renewable energy exist.

• The $3.3 billion in appraised value of installed equipment and increased local property tax values and revenue to schools and local governments.

• The $1.2 billion in ad valorem taxes projected to be paid by wind developers between 2003 and 2043, money that wouldn’t exist but for those investments.

• The more than $10 billion invested in Oklahoma since 2003, in landowner payments, local jobs, taxes and investments.

It is right that we analyze annual costs to state government and the budget dilemma, hence costs to all of us, but it is dangerous to our state’s future if legislators act upon one-eyed analysis, especially now when our state family’s budget must plan for a future beyond just this next session. Let’s resolve for 2017 that our Oklahoma vision includes a clear, two-eyed view of the benefits to an energy future that is truly all-the-above as renewables have helped us become.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Are you dreaming of a green Christmas?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 12, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Are you dreaming of a green Christmas?

Although White Christmas, the 1942 Irving Berlin classic made most famous by singer Bing Crosby, is a holiday staple in many American homes via iTunes, Pandora, an old CD or your retro turntable, a yearning for a different color this time of year has options too.

And if you are a retailer, you are most certainly hoping for a “green” Christmas in terms of economic activity, as America’s retail industry is expecting Americans to spend around $3 trillion during the holidays, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the retail industry’s total sales for the year. These annual bumps have typically also resulted in nearly 1 million employees being hired for the seasonal rush.

And if you are an electric utility provider you probably also appreciate that Americans annually string lights on their homes, trees, lawns and public buildings, consuming an additional 6-billion-plus kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. And yes, that sounds like a lot; in fact, it alone surpasses the annual consumption of some entire countries’ electric consumption within our own hemisphere, yet it only accounts for about 0.2 percent of America’s yearly consumption. And more modern LED lights, which are safer and cooler than incandescent lights, themselves consume much less electricity. So if your inner Clark Griswold is calling to redo his 25,000 twinkle light extravaganza, please consider the LED options to save some family budget for the eggnog.

But if you are longing for a greener, more sustainable celebration of Christmas this year, consider a series of small decisions that can make a big impact for the Peace on Earth around you. Let’s take the debate on whether to get a real or an artificial tree this year for Christmas. There are certainly pros and cons for both.

Real Christmas trees, planted, grown and harvested on tree farms, have spent their lives absorbing a variety of air pollutants and in return emitting fresh oxygen to the world around them. Most farms replace the cut trees with seedlings that continue the benefits over time and all trees help to stabilize the soil and help reduce erosion. Yet most farms do use pesticides that linger in the atmosphere, including in your home, and these short-lived trees often end up as waste in city landfills or worse. Yet again, however, many cities are now creating mulching and composting programs around these discarded trees, turning a positive for the community.

Artificial Christmas trees do help families avoid many of the annual negatives about real trees, including the ability to reuse the same tree year after year, yet these trees are not without their own ecological footprint. While real trees may be shipped from as far away as Oregon (No. 1 source of America’s Christmas trees), North Carolina (second) or Michigan (third), 80 percent of all artificial Christmas trees sold worldwide are from the Pearl River region of China, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Obviously the effort to transport any tree requires a carbon and energy footprint, and one can argue that a one-time trip for a 10-year tree may be no worse than annual trips from Oregon for 10 years in a row. These trees also contain non-biodegradable plastics, from petroleum-based products, and some worry they may get discarded earlier than their useful life might otherwise allow.

So what’s a green-conscious person to do? Perhaps ask Santa for a live tree that you can plant in your own yard, to decorate and celebrate around for years to come and in turn teach your children the value of the living tree all seasons of the year. Merry Christmas.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Thanks, OPEC?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 5, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Thanks, OPEC?

As an American consumer, more often than not OPEC has truly been a four-letter word, causing price spikes and negative impacts to our broader economy.

But as you fill up your car for holiday travel, at around $1.60 a gallon for gasoline, many Americans can be thankful for the low energy prices fueling their lives. Global oil prices have been under serious downward pressure for the past two years mostly because Saudi Arabia convinced its OPEC brethren to let market forces set the price and production continued to soar.

As an American energy enthusiast, I know that much of the thanks goes to our own domestic producers, the new technologies to discover and recover new reserves and the historic amounts of oil and gas production their ingenuity has made possible, thereby also providing oversupply to the benefit of American consumers.

But as an Oklahoman, I’m hesitant to give thanks to OPEC for much, especially as their two-plus-year campaign of oversupply was probably intended to hurt American producers, many of them right here in our part of the country. And in many ways it worked, as we’ve witnessed massive job losses, business contractions, some bankruptcies and general carnage in the energy services industries.

What is OPEC and why does it matter? Begun in 1960 in Baghdad, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is a permanent, inter-governmental organization whose founding members include: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Nine other member countries have joined over time: Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Angola and Gabon and all other members operate under a Declaratory Statement of Petroleum Policy, which essentially expresses an inalienable right of these countries to exercise sovereignty over their natural resources in the interests of their national development.

These stated rights and purposes led to OPEC’s quick growing prominence as early as 1973 with the Arab oil embargo and its steep rise in oil prices. Since that time global and American economic cycles have been impacted by OPEC’s production and policies, sometimes as a symptom, sometimes the cause.

OPEC completed a deal to cut production (first cut since the recession of late 2008) and adopt other policies that have contributed to a sharp rally in oil prices around the world and here at home. The agreement to reduce their collective output by 1.2 million barrels a day to a new ceiling of 32.5 million barrels was a deeper cut than most observers were expecting.

Saudi Arabia will make the biggest cut at 486,000 barrels, but may actually increase its revenue because of the correspondent rise in prices per barrel. The new wrinkle is that non-OPEC countries, namely Russia, have purportedly also agreed to cut their production as well.

As we Americans also know not to trust Russia without verification, OPEC’s agreement also includes the implementation of a “high-level monitoring committee” to make sure parties abide by the terms of the agreement. They would do well to follow the agreement and enjoy an uptick in commodity prices, thereby earning as much or more revenue while leaving more supply in the ground for their later benefit.

Yet, if oil prices continue to rise, most expect American shale producers to ramp up output in hopes of regaining some lost profits (or at least ending losses), thereby creating a market cap of their own with a corresponding effect on oil prices. So the real question in light of OPEC’s announced production cut is whether American producers will avoid too much production coming back in and causing prices to collapse again.

Yes, I’m a consumer who is thankful to OPEC for the low prices these past years, but I’ll be a more thankful American and Oklahoman with American energy producers back in charge of their own destiny.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Solar and its erosion of socialism

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 28, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Solar and its erosion of socialism

Since long before the Affordable Care Act, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Social Security, Americans have relied upon socialism to safeguard their lives, provide vital services like water, electricity and infrastructure and to connect one another in a seemingly unbreakable co-dependence. The term and concept of socialism can be a politically charged (often negative) term in today’s culture, but the reality is it’s been the American way of life, in many ways, for many years.

But the greatest threat, or opportunity depending on your point of view, to disrupt some aspects of socialized American life is not whether Speaker Paul Ryan’s past efforts to privatize portions of Social Security have a new life or whether the incoming president will repeal “Obamacare,” it’s whether fast-paced solar energy technologies may give Americans the chance to “live free” so-to-speak, or at least more free in the energy future.

About five years ago, to a national energy audience, I once heard the late Aubrey McClendon state “we have more energy hitting the surface of the Earth every day from the sun than this planet may ever need, we simply don’t know yet how to harness and use it.”

He of course was right and the last five years have seen incredible growth in human ability to harness and use solar energy. And it’s about to disrupt some socialized ways of life, for the better.

Imagine if you will, you drive to and from work in your solar-powered car, park in your home’s garage with solar-technology shingles repowering it and your home, with the help of battery technology that has captured the sun for 24/7 benefit and value to your family. And what are the effects to our socialized systems? Well, the jury is still out on this question but it’s fair to believe that change is coming and that’s a good thing. Yet some of the change won’t be easy as it will involve recalculating and perhaps redesigning cost structures for things like the socialized electric grid and America’s road systems.

Imagine two case studies:

  • More Americans can rely upon a solar-powered home and live free of the local utility. If that trend moves quicker than utilities can divest from older, expensive debt like coal plants and built-out transmission and distribution grids, will the non-solar customers need to pay more for their older forms of socialized electricity? And if that’s the case, then the cost-competitiveness of stand-alone solar energy, compared to escalating utility costs, creates price signals that will motivate even more customers to switch to their own solar systems and hasten the cost increase in the incumbent utility rates.
  • As more Americans drive electric-powered cars right past gas stations without the need to fuel up, what happens to the funding of local roads and bridges that rely upon gas and diesel fuel tax collections to pay, in part, for the roadway system?

More cars may be relying upon their own energy generation, while roads receive less funding as less gasoline and diesel is consumed. And although Americans also pay for roads through public bonds, property taxes and general revenue, some may worry about the reduction of gas taxes into that funding pie.

Early “societal cost analyses” actually suggest that electric-powered cars are cheaper to society, on an all-in basis, because of reduced costs to health and environment compared to combustion engines. But the trend will undoubtedly impact socialized road funding as we know it today and will be something future public policy will need to adjust toward.

It’s rich irony to realize that the sun, something all humans on Earth have access to in common, may be the new way that we all live more separate and independent lives from each other.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Too early to know for sure

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Too early to know for sure

With the new president not yet taking office until Jan. 20, it is surely too early to know for sure what changes are in store for America’s energy and environment policies. But certain things are known with relative certainty: The philosophies of the outgoing and incoming administrations are certainly much different from one another. But what is unknown is how much will the effects of each be different and in what ways.

For eight years the Obama Administration has prioritized government action in the areas of energy and environmental policy. In fact, according to the White House’s website: “The President has taken unprecedented action to build the foundation for a clean energy economy, tackle the issue of climate change, and protect our environment.”

It is this action, especially the executive actions without congressional approval that has offended many republicans and has drawn the ire of the president-elect.

Since 2008, domestic energy related emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years, due in large part to the massive boom in domestic natural gas production, which has helped to economically move dirtier coal out of the market in electricity and industrial output. Also, America has seen rapid growth in renewable energy development and Americans have more clean energy options today than any other time in history. Those technological progresses, coupled with many Clean Air Act policies and other regulatory pressures, have America headed toward a lower carbon future, where energy security is becoming a national security reality because of domestic production.

It seems obvious that the president-elect will make good on his campaign promise to “roll-back” regulations, but what is less obvious is: How far, which regulations and to what effect?

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which Trump has vowed to kill, will be an early target along with several environmental and energy rules under litigation including the EPA’s controversial Waters of the US Rule, which has concerned many farm states, the Department of the Interior’s fracking rule and issues around public lands leasing for drilling. But again, at what practical impact is still anyone’s guess.

For example, even if Trump tries to re-open many coal mines in Appalachia, where the product is much dirtier than Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where is the market for that product? Few utilities are still burning coal, many are under court-ordered retirement schedules and the enormous supply of cleaner-burning natural gas will continue to undercut the price of coal.

Also, and sometimes at the same pro-coal rallies, candidate Trump made promises about greater drilling for oil and natural gas that will only further over-supply the gas picture and make coal less competitive. So it’s a bit of a stretch to think that local utilities are going to ask their regulators for permission to raise the price of electricity so they can burn more coal and create more pollution. Market forces are at play here.

And political forces are at play in other ways that leave coal a diminished future, in spite of campaign promises from the president-elect. He would still have to convince the Republican Congress to join him in reversing America’s course toward a cleaner energy future.

Take wind for example. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, from Iowa, the original author of the wind energy production tax credit, warned candidate Trump in August “If he wants to do away with it, he’ll have to get a bill through Congress, and he’ll do it over my dead body.”

For environmentalists, there is certainly reason for worry as their priorities will be under attack from day one. Particular concern is justified when you consider that a climate-denier and skeptic named Myron Ebell is a possible nominee to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But for those on the other side, their optimism may need to wait and see what actually happens legislatively and market-wise. Business can most assuredly expect relaxed regulations on energy consumption, industrial processes and their environmental footprint.

But the idea that all of America’s recent movements in energy and the environment are going to be reversed may prove to be more like the pre-election “big, beautiful wall to be paid for by Mexico” giving way to the post-election admission that it’s probably more likely a “fence in some places” if he can get Congress to pay for it with your money. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Clean water, local control and Oklahomans united against SQ 777

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 31, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Clean water, local control and Oklahomans united against SQ 777

There is no question that this year’s political cycle has been a particularly divisive one. On the national level, the rhetoric is ramped up to unprecedented levels, and there’s a clear divide in our country that may take generations to heal.

Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree with other Republicans and other Democrats; forget trying to find common ground across the aisle – unless you look at one of the state questions on the ballot in Oklahoma. Seemingly out of nowhere, a diverse coalition has emerged, and Republicans and Democrats alike are united in their opposition to State Question 777.

As you may know by now, SQ 777 is a proposed constitutional amendment that will make it virtually impossible for our Legislature, municipalities and administrative agencies to implement reasonable regulations on any aspect of the agricultural industry. No industry in Oklahoma currently enjoys this type of constitutional protection. And in my opinion, none should.

SQ 777’s proponents rail against government overreach and claim it will protect farms from burdensome overregulation, but Oklahomans aren’t buying it.

In fact, by preventing our local officials from having a say in future agriculture policy, SQ 777 will invite increased attention and intervention from federal regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, if Oklahoma so severely restricts its ability to self-govern, the only authority left to fill the void will come from Washington, D.C. And we Oklahomans know better that the best form of government is that which is closest to the people, here at home.

Those opposing SQ 777 cite a wide range of concerns: protection of our water; making sure our laws banning cockfighting and puppy mills stay on the books; and safeguarding family farms from the havoc wreaked by corporate, foreign-owned farming operations all factor in to this unlikely band of naysayers.

And this band of naysayers is diverse and growing.

Those opposed to SQ 777 include Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, Coach Barry Switzer, Gov. Brad Henry (D) and Gov. David Walters (D), just to name a few. Organizations against SQ 777 include the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, League of Women Voters and Save the Illinois River.

The Cherokee County Republican Women and the Cherokee County Federation of Democratic Women have even signed a joint resolution in opposition to the proposed amendment. Now that ought to tell us all something when leaders in both parties come together to protect our Oklahoma rights.

Municipalities of all sizes from Broken Bow to Oklahoma City have voiced their concerns as have the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments. Newspapers across the state are also urging voters to reject the proposal.

While their reasons may differ, opponents of SQ 777 are united at a time when vitriol and discord have become the norm.

I hope on Election Day the ballots will show what recent polling shows on SQ 777, Oklahomans are in agreement. We must vote no on this dangerous, unnecessary proposal.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A ‘rigged’ election?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 24, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A ‘rigged’ election?

I know, I know, we are all growing tired of the 24/7 news around our election for a new U.S. president and in just two weeks it should all be over.

But the headline of this column is not about one candidate’s unprecedented forecast of possible election fraud as a cause of his likely defeat. No, this headline is about the other kind of “rigging” that has more often been a subject of debate in American presidential politics.

For the first time in my life, the presidential election year debate around America’s possible role in the turmoil of the Middle East has nothing to do with the economic implications to our need for Middle Eastern oil and gas. Instead, because of the success and unprecedented production of America’s domestic resources over the past years, Americans are now debating the role of America in Syria, Yemen and Iraq on purely humanitarian and global security grounds.

Gone are the spoken or unspoken rationales for early military intervention in places like Kuwait, where we pushed back the aggression of Saddam Hussein, who had overtaken that country’s constitutional monarchy for control of its rick oil fields and its strategic place along the Arabian tip of the Persian Gulf. Gone too is the notion that we should bring democracy to places like Iraq, or topple dictators like Hussein, begun in 2003 under the guise of expanding freedoms and revenging supposed involvement during the 9/11 attacks.

To illustrate how far we’ve moved as a country, both candidates for president of our two major political parties now disavow their earlier support for the invasion of Iraq just 13 years on. And I’m not trying to conflate the idea of 9/11 revenge or Hussein tyranny as justifications. My point is that for decades America’s activism in the Middle East, whether through military intervention, military sales or regime change, has been rooted in what it meant to our country’s economic interest. Intervention often helped stabilize global markets and our energy-dependent economy at home.

But thanks to the ingenuity, technological advances and drive of America’s oil and gas producers over the past decade, our country now stands on its own production better than ever. Our ability to identify, drill and produce new reserves in massive quantities has allowed America to achieve much-improved national security through the drill bit.

The U.S. shale revolution is the most significant global energy development in a quarter century or more. Our oil and gas commodity markets and the broader economy are no longer impacted my Middle East unrest half a world away, or even the hurricane seasons in our own hemisphere.

With a horrific humanitarian toll growing as Syria rages, with Saudi Arabia in a military fight in Yemen and with Iraqi forces on the march in Mosul, America Oil remains steady at just above $50 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate. The global benchmark price is also relatively stable at just above $51 a barrel for Brent Crude.

The American rig count is at 553 active rigs, up 42 rigs from a month earlier, yet it is down 234 rigs from this time last year. And oil prices are still steady.

American energy security is being met more by Americans than ever before and it’s making for a new evolution in American politics. So the new question for the next president, and really all of us American citizens, on the modern challenges of the Middle East is becoming: What’s our role in the region now that the growing need is more humanitarian interests than economic?

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: FedEx, CNG and leadership

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 17, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

FedEx, CNG and leadership

Leadership matters. And FedEx is the perfect example.

In fact, read this quote from its founder, Fred Smith, and I think you will agree: “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or glory. The best kind of leadership is about setting the example, influence, integrity, inspiration and courage.”

FedEx, originally known as Federal Express, was the first overnight express delivery company in the world, is the largest in the United States and the largest in the world. So when a company like this moves in a principled direction, its competitors and others should take note.

This is certainly true with FedEx Freight’s movement toward compressed natural gas fleets and the recent celebration in converting its service center in Oklahoma City to run on CNG. They have purchased more than 100 new CNG trucks, making Oklahoma City their first market committing to this fuel. The facility and its fueling stations is a partnership with Clean-Energy Fuels and features multiple fast-fuel stations at its expanded service center. Faster and cleaner is a great commitment to FedEx’s future.

According to FedEx’s corporate position on environmental sustainability, it is “committed to providing global connections while minimizing our environmental impact. We have integrated responsible environmental practices into its daily operations, and continuously work toward goals that challenge us to increase efficiencies and reduce waste and emissions.”

And it shows. By 2012 FedEx had achieved a 22-percent improvement to its fleet’s fuel efficiency over 2005 levels and had increased its goal now to a 30-percent improvement by 2020. It has also set ambitious goals to reduce aircraft emissions 30 percent by 2020 and it’s committed to getting 30 percent of its jet fuel from alternative fuels by 2030 also.

The progress being made towards these company goals is evident in its Oklahoma progress with its CNG expansions. Let’s compare fuels.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, when used as a vehicle fuel, natural gas can offer life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions benefits over conventional fuels, depending on vehicle type, drive cycle and engine calibrations. And in some instances natural gas can also reduce some types of tailpipe emissions.

Modeling done by the esteemed Argonne National Laboratory estimates that vehicles running on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas emit approximately 6 percent to 11 percent lower levels of GHGs than gasoline throughout the fuel life cycle.

The two types of natural gas, CNG and LNG, are nearly identical, with CNG actually emitting slightly less GHGs than LNG because compressing natural gas requires less energy than liquefying it. Both are clean-burning fuels and help companies like FedEx beat current vehicle emission standards.

They truly are on the road to a cleaner future, leading the way by example and actually ahead of the curve from all others.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Our own efforts to reduce carbon

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 10, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Our own efforts to reduce carbon

Last week we discussed the historic nature of recent carbon levels and the Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured late September levels to remain in excess of 400 ppm (parts per million) at their monitoring station in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.  The lowest carbon levels of an entire year typically occur in the later part of September, yet this September carbon dioxide levels remaining above 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history.

The surge in carbon dioxide levels has occurred in large part because manmade emissions have increased 25 percent in the last 20 years, as more and more industrialization occurs across the globe. And according to researchers around the world, the historic increase over 400 ppm for an entire year may not change the ultimate fundamentals around climate change, but it has certainly represented a hastening of the coming dangers.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that carbon dioxide concentrations need to be stabilized at 450 ppm if we are to have a decent chance of avoiding the 2 degree Celsius increase in global warming. And as we have now known for years, the 2C increase projection is expected to carry catastrophic consequences.

At this point in time, to avoid the 2C increase in global temperature, would require a 40 percent to 70 percent emissions cut compared to 2010 levels and zero, yes zero, emissions by the end of this current century in 84 years. There are some signs of progress and hope but much remains to be done.

For example, the large global boost in renewable energies, having replaced dirtier emitting power plants (like coal and other resources), have at least slowed the growth in global emissions. Our own state is now ranked fourth in America in terms of installed wind capacity and is on track to become third by the end of 2016, surpassing the larger state of California.

So what can we do in our own lives to help make a difference?

There are a number of great online resources, with many great ideas for how you can customize efforts in your own life, such as:

  • www.carbonfund.org – whose Motto is: Reduce what you can, Offset what you can’t.
  • www.cotap.org – which stands for Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty.
  • www.ecowatch.org – which offers ideas for drastically reducing America’s carbon emissions and grow the economy.

These sites and many others suggest solid ideas for simple things in each of our own lives, such as shortening our work commute by car-pooling, moving closer to work and working longer days but fewer of them.

And most scientists and observers suggest that Americans could make the most immediate and dramatic reduction to our own carbon footprint by simply changing some food and eating habits. It’s true that we as a people often buy more food than we eat, causing massive amounts of agricultural production that is unnecessary. We also consume large amounts of meats and milk, which cause animal farming to create excessive amounts of methane and other gases.

According to research, the average American is consuming 83 grams of animal-based protein a day, well above the daily-recommended amount of 51 grams. So it appears that some things we can do to benefit our own planet, might actually start with more immediate benefits to our own bodies and lives.

Please consider ways to help Mother Earth too.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Director Jim Roth presents for Sierra Club

Director Jim Roth presenting at the Solar Summit for Sierra Club.

Director Jim Roth presenting at the Solar Summit for Sierra Club.

Jim Roth, Director and Chair of Phillips Murrah’s Clean Energy Practice Group, presented at the Solar Summit for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club on Saturday at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City’s Student Center.

“Jim Roth’s former role as a Corporation Commissioner and his current work on cases involving the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, along with his intelligence and his consummate people-skills, make him a perfect fit for helping to educate Oklahomans about the truth regarding solar energy,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of Sierra Club.

The summit is a non-partisan, public event aimed at developing discussion to help move Oklahoma from its current position at the bottom of solar-producing states to fulfill its projected capacity of becoming 6th in the nation in solar energy production, Bridgwater said.

“The summit was a great opportunity for Oklahomans to learn about our state’s native solar potential, the ability for citizens to take advantage of this free fuel source and what the energy future looks like,” Roth said.

Learn more about the Oklahoma Chapter of Sierra Club here.

Roth: 400 ppm tipping point?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 3, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

400 ppm tipping point?

Safe carbon levels in Earth’s atmosphere are now a thing of the past, as many scientists conclude we may have just passed the tipping point for our planet’s climate, based upon readings from this week’s carbon levels.

The lowest carbon levels of an entire year typically occur in the later part of September, yet September 2016 just saw another historic event in climate science with carbon dioxide levels remaining above 400 ppm (parts per million) for the first time in recorded history. In fact, scientists are able to conclude that it’s the first time in over 3 million years, considering that the Earth just surpassed the 400 ppm level in 2013. Now we’ve missed our annual minimum from even dipping below that level, just three years on.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first measured the 400 ppm threshold from its monitoring station in Hawaii in 2013, causing worry around the world from scientists and environmentalists who have long held that level as the threshold to avoid irreversible changes to climate, weather, sea levels and ice cover. The same NOAA station at Mauna Loa Observatory just recorded that “Carbon dioxide just hits its annual minimum …and failed to dip below 400 ppm” on Wednesday.

For years many scientists have suggested that 350 ppm is the upper limit of safe CO2 levels in the atmosphere, with 400 ppm considered the line not to cross, yet this week’s reality suggests that we are continuing to add 2 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, with no real change in sight.

And to be clear, it’s not all the fault of fossil fuels, although the broader industrialization of planet Earth’s more populous countries over the last two centuries has been proven to accelerate us all to the current reality. Other causes, including those that have perhaps forced September to not dip backwards to its annual minimum, come from other sectors of the world’s economies (agriculture, deforestation, etc.) and other naturally occurring realities, evident this September.

Why September?

The month of September is usually the month with the lowest levels of carbon in the atmosphere because the effect of massive summer plants growing and absorbing the CO2 in the Northern Hemisphere in particular. And as the calendar moves on, those plants and trees lose their leaves, decompose and again release the carbon into the atmosphere. And with the greater industrialization of the planet, humans have been adding more and more carbon dioxide than Earth’s remaining plants can absorb. Thus, when the natural seasonal effects happen the absorbed carbon is released into a world that already has carbon levels too high.

To see an amazing visualization of the growing carbon levels, please check out NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at gfycat.com/InexperiencedFalseGypsymoth.

Next week I’ll share a few ideas for things we can do in our own lives to help slow the harm we are all witnessing.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Time to garden?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 26, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Time to garden?

Now that the autumnal equinox has begun and the heat of summer is subsiding, it might surprise you to know this is an excellent time to plant a garden.

Gardening is truly a year-round activity and in Oklahoma some of the best vegetables are grown and harvested in the fall. As more and more Americans grow interested in the source, quality and integrity of their food, more and more Americans are growing their own. And the unique mixture of Oklahoma’s warm autumn days followed by cool, humid nights creates great climate conditions for high-quality vegetables.

Oklahomans can confidently sow carrots, beans, cucumbers, summer squash, beets, Irish potatoes, lettuce, mustard, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips, according to the Master Gardener programs at the Oklahoma State University Extension Services across our state. To learn more specifics, please check out www.tulsamastergardeners.org.

Timing

You will want to contemplate a few things on the timing of your plantings for different types of vegetables. Your planting should be timed to allow frost-sensitive plants (like beans, squash and cucumbers) to mature before Oklahoma’s frost begins, which as we Oklahomans know is often hard to predict. And for those vegetables that have more tolerance for frost, (like beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, Irish potatoes, leaf lettuce, radishes, rutabaga, Swiss chard and turnips) they can be grown and harvested even during times of mild fall frosts later in the season. And if you are late to plant this fall, your best bet is probably mustard and spinach.

You may also opt for transplanting starter plants for your fall garden, rather than using seeds, as germinating seeds will obviously take longer to grow and produce and also pose more risk regarding water levels as their small root systems require daily attention.

Desirable soil conditions for fall

If you’ve just come off a spring or summer garden it is recommended that you clean up existing plants and mulch the soil to pre-cool it. After about a week, remove the mulch and analyze the soil to determine what if anything else may help to prepare it. Modifying or improving the soil with fertilizers, adding organic materials and improving aeration and drainage go a long way to creating the desirable soil for your garden. Additional fertilizers may be beneficial to stimulate growth and production. These might be incorporated in the soil prior to planting your garden or applied on the soil surface later.

And since fall seeds are planted shallower than warmer-weather gardens, sufficient water is critical to their growth and production.

Soils that produced a spring or summer vegetable crop will be more easily managed and readied than those made from scratch from established grasses and yards. If you are starting a fall garden from scratch, please do consult the OSU Extension advice and suggestions for soil preparation, soil quality and planting methods to obtain a garden of plenty for your upcoming holidays and family meals.

Bringing a homegrown food dish to share with family and friends is a very thoughtful way to share the bounty. And because fall vegetables are often more dense and productive than those that survive our summer season, you may end up with extra vegetables to can and preserve for those cold winter months that will be here sooner than we might like to admit.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.