NewsOK Q&A: SQ 788 also opens path for new medical marijuana businesses

Jason M. Kreth

Jason M. Kreth is a Director and a commercial litigator who represents financial institutions, handling matters such as foreclosures, bankruptcy and lender liability litigation. He also represents clients in a range of real property disputes.

In this article, Director Jason M. Kreth discusses requirements and allowances for medical marijuana distributors since Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788.

Q: What type of new business opportunities exist now that SQ 788 has passed?

A: The approval of SQ 788 enacted a series of new statutes that take effect July 26. Aside from provisions related to the acquisition of a medical marijuana license for individual use, the statutes also provide a framework for the approval of new medical marijuana businesses. These business are: retailers or dispensaries of medical marijuana; commercial growers of medical marijuana; processors of medical marijuana into concentrated, edible or other forms; and medical marijuana researchers. In addition, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has published its draft proposed Medical Marijuana Control Program regulations which, if implemented in their current form, would provide for the licensure of laboratories to test and approve various medical marijuana products. However, both the statutes implemented by SQ 788 and the regulations proposed by Department of Health are still subject to change.

Q: What are the main requirements that must be met in order to obtain a license as a dispensary, commercial grower, processor or researcher?

A: In each case, an individual or entity wishing to obtain a license to operate as a dispensary, commercial grower, or processor, must submit an application to the Oklahoma State Department of Health along with a $2,500 fee. The application must establish that the applicant: is 25 or older; is an Oklahoma resident, in the case of entities, that all members, managers and board members are Oklahoma residents and that no more than 25 percent of its ownership is out-of-state; is registered to conduct business in Oklahoma; and isn’t incarcerated and doesn’t have either a nonviolent felony conviction in the last two years or any other felony conviction in the last five years. In addition, the Department of Health’s proposed regulations also would require submission of a criminal background screening as well as proof of a $50,000 bond made payable to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Q: Where can these new medical marijuana businesses operate?

A: Virtually any location as other businesses. The only direct exception is a dispensary can’t operate within 1,000 feet of a school. To ensure this freedom to operate these businesses, the statutes specifically prohibit a city or municipality from restricting zoning for the purpose of preventing the opening of medical marijuana establishments, and landlords are prevented from refusing to execute a lease with such businesses unless, by doing so, they would lose a licensing or monetary benefit under federal law. However, the proposed regulations of the Department of Health would create several practical limitations on where these businesses could be located. For instance, a dispensary may not be housed in the same location as a physician who can prescribe medical marijuana and the location where medical marijuana may be grown or processed is subject to more exacting security and privacy standards than those of a simple dispensary, which may limit the options for potential locations.

Q: When can these businesses obtain their licenses?

A: The statutes set an ambitious timetable of applications being made available within 30 days of the passage of SQ 788 and the establishment of a regulatory office for processing these applications within 60 days of passage. Furthermore, the statutes require that all applications must be processed within two weeks. However, these timetables are subject to alteration by the legislature and may be extended.


Published: 7/3/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article:

Forty one years ago today – SCOTUS: Advertising is attorneys’ First Amendment right

“Advertising, the traditional mechanism in a free market economy for a supplier to inform a potential purchaser of the availability and terms of exchange, may well benefit the administration of justice.” – U.S. Supreme Court holding in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977)

Bates and O'Steen ad in Arizona Republic

Bates and O’Steen ad in Arizona Republic

There was a time when, generally speaking, lawyers were not allowed to advertise. In my role as Marketing Director at Phillips Murrah, I refer to those days as “the dark ages.” This anachronistic tradition, a holdover from Great Britain, was a regulation enforced from within the legal industry via bar associations.

On this particular day in history, Jun 27, 1977 to be specific, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona marks an important development in the legal industry. The decision held that attorneys were to be permitted to inform the public about their legal practice through advertising.

The backstory of Bates began with two young lawyers, John Bates and Van O’Steen, who placed an advertisement in the Arizona Republic on February 22, 1976. In the ad, they informed the public that they offered “legal services at very reasonable fees,” and included fees for various routine legal services such as uncontested divorce, personal bankruptcy and legal change of name.

The motivation for this business model was to serve people of moderate income. The profit return was low for such cases, so they depended on increased volume to remain viable in their legal endeavor. After a couple of years, they concluded that their practice would not survive without the benefit of advertising their services and fees. This act put them in violation of the conduct rules of the State Bar of Arizona.

Eventually, (see the many, many details here), the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that such prohibitions of the free flow of commercial speech was a First Amendment violation. For the purpose of highlighting some of the Court’s opinion, delivered by Justice Harry Andrew Blackmun, I will copy excerpts below that I find to be personally valuable in finding satisfaction in my role at our modern, forward-thinking Firm:

  • The listener’s interest is substantial: the consumer’s concern for the free flow of commercial speech often may be far keener than his concern for urgent political dialogue. Moreover, significant societal interests are served by such speech. Advertising, though entirely commercial, may often carry information of import to significant issues of the day. And commercial speech serves to inform the public of the availability, nature, and prices of products and services, and thus performs an indispensable role in the allocation of resources in a free enterprise system.

  • The assertion that advertising will diminish the attorney’s reputation in the community is open to question. Bankers and engineers advertise, and yet these professions are not regarded as undignified. In fact, it has been suggested that the failure of lawyers to advertise creates public disillusionment with the profession. The absence of advertising may be seen to reflect the profession’s failure to reach out and serve the community: studies reveal that many persons do not obtain counsel, even when they perceive a need, because of the feared price of services or because of an inability to locate a competent attorney. Indeed, cynicism with regard to the profession may be created by the fact that it long has publicly eschewed advertising, while condoning the actions of the attorney who structures his social or civic associations so as to provide contacts with potential clients.

  • It appears that the ban on advertising originated as a rule of etiquette, and not as a rule of ethics. Early lawyers in Great Britain viewed the law as a form of public service, rather than as a means of earning a living, and they looked down on “trade” as unseemly. Eventually, the attitude toward advertising fostered by this view evolved into an aspect of the ethics of the profession. But habit and tradition are not, in themselves, an adequate answer to a constitutional challenge. In this day, we do not belittle the person who earns his living by the strength of his arm or the force of his mind. Since the belief that lawyers are somehow “above” trade has become an anachronism, the historical foundation for the advertising restraint has crumbled.

Dave Rhea is Marketing Director at Phillips Murrah P.C. He may be reached at 405.235.4100.

Monkey’s business?

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 21, 2018.

Cody Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

In 2011, a nature photographer in an Indonesian nature reserve left his camera unattended in the forest. A 7-year-old crested macaque monkey named Naruto, perhaps in an effort to increase its Instagram followers, decided to take several selfies using the camera. The photographer then, in 2014, published the monkey’s photographs in a book for sale online.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued as next friend of Naruto seeking to enforce Naruto’s copyrights to the photographs and to recover profits from the sale of the book.

The question became whether Naruto had statutory standing to claim copyright infringement on what became referred to as Monkey Selfies. According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the answer is no.

Humans, unlike monkeys, have a constitutional right to protect their works and inventions under Clause 8 of Section 8 contained within Article I of the Constitution, and those rights are further set out in the United States Copyright Act. These rights include the right to use, distribute, sell, duplicate, display and create derivative works. These rights are most commonly associated with books, magazines, plays, paintings and photographs, but can also apply to things like architecture and even graffiti.

The 9th Circuit, in Naruto, et al., v. Slater, et al., No. 16-15469 (9th Cir. April 23, 2018) affirmed the trial court’s ruling that, despite the fact that the monkey had standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, Naruto did not have standing under the Copyright Act to bring the lawsuit. In other words, monkeys (or any other animal) cannot bring copyright infringement claims because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize it. So, Naruto’s case was dismissed.

Citing Cetacean Cmty. v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169, 1175 (9th Cir. 2004) as precedent, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that “if an Act of Congress plainly states that animals have statutory standing, then animals have statutory standing. If the statute does not so plainly state, then animals do not have statutory standing.”

If Naruto teaches nothing else, it should be to remember that if you see your pet attempting to take a selfie with an abandoned camera, be sure to take the picture yourself, in case it becomes famous. Someone will be making money on it, and it might as well be you.

Cody J. Cooper is a patent attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Oklahoma healthcare law leader Mary Holloway Richard offers mentoring advice in AHLA magazine

The following Oklahoma healthcare law topic regarding mentoring was featured in the June 2018 issue of Connections, the official publication of the American Health Lawyers Association.

By Mary Holloway Richard

“Forewarned is forearmed.” I adopted that as one of my guides. Nowhere is that more true than in the mentor selection process within AHLA.

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Holloway Richard

I want to share some thoughts with you to make your selection more likely to lead to a meaningful mentor relationship to help you along your path in this broad, ever-changing field we have chosen.

I am passionate about many things, including mentoring and AHLA. While I mentor within my state and community, the focus there is often on facilitating connections for young lawyers looking for a job or a career change. Within AHLA, mentors additionally provide a safe place to discuss difficult issues – both legal and human relations – as well as inspiration and support to other lawyers. We have the opportunity to help other health lawyers along their career path, and to learn from those mentees.

Yet, while AHLA members may share similar passions and goals, that is not a strong basis for selection. Rather, there is a bit of magic to being selected. Obviously you need to be as transparent as possible about your goals, areas of interest (“Mentoring Topics”), and your member profile. As much information as you can share is important because you never know what it is that will draw a potential mentor to you. For example, in addition to substantive areas of health law of interest to me, I am interested in supporting young women balancing commitments to family, profession, and community. In reviewing recent mentee applications, I found that I connected with those who provided enough information so that I could connect with them., such as the young mother on the partnership track who still worked to contribute to her community and another who had moved from an in-house position to a private practice (as I did). Some of those who did not provide enough information in their profiles left me without a basis for connecting with them. I even suggested to some that they revise their profiles to tell their story and state their objectives more clearly.

In the spirit of wishing you the most satisfying, helpful, and inspiring mentor-mentee relationship, I will distill my thoughts down to the following messages of motivation:

Your story is interesting so tell enough of it – education, family, job path, current position. Let prospective mentors get to know you a bit.

Share your professional dreams, goals, objectives. Readers won’t know if they can be proper mentors without this information. Allow a prospective mentor to properly select you as his or her mentee based upon your objectives and common or complementary skill sets. You may also create a connection via disparate experiences and different skill sets, so pique the prospective mentor’s curiosity with sufficient information to determine if you two are a match.

If you want someone to provide feedback about a specific area, such as interfacing with the FBI or handling OIG investigations, or if you want your mentor to assist you in connecting within AHLA, be sure to mention those goals.

You must sell yourself truthfully, so don’t despair if it takes some time to connect with just the right mentor.

Finally, once connected to a Mentor, engage with that Mentor. AHLA recommends quarterly contact as a minimum. The responsibilities to create a meaningful relationship belong to both parties, as do the benefits of the relationship. Mentoring is a two-way street, and you will get out of it what you put into it, but it will be much less effective and satisfying – for both the mentor and mentee – if you fail to provide sufficient information upon which to base the relationship.

Mary H. Richard heads up the Health Care Practice Group at the law firm of Phillips Murrah, headquartered in Oklahoma City. Mary has a law degree from George Washington University and a master’s degree in public health administration from the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She began her career in ambulatory care, health services research, and health management consulting at the Texas Medical Center. She has practiced health law in private practice settings and as in-house counsel for the INTEGRIS Health system. While at INTEGRIS, she provided legal counsel on issues regarding behavioral health services, hospital operations, clinical research activities, and a variety of other topics in a number of facilities throughout the system. She is active in the AHLA and is a part of the AHLA Behavioral Task Force leadership. She served as subcommittee co-chair of the Providers/Clinicians subcommittee, Vice Chair of Publications, Vice Chair of Strategic Planning and Special Projects, and is currently Vice Chair of Membership. She continues to be active in the AHLA mentoring program by mentoring six young professionals and is an active mentor to lawyers in Oklahoma who are interested in health law. Mary is also a proud member if the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Her grandfather was one of the first lawyers in Indian Territory.

Roth: An open letter of thanks

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 4, 2018.

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

Roth: An open letter of thanks

Occasionally in life our journeys come full circle in a way that allows for reflection and gratitude, such as this, my last recurring column in this newspaper.

As a 13-year-old I was a paper boy for my hometown’s Wednesday and Friday Johnson County Sun newspaper. I would come home from school, find the large bundles on my doorstep, set about folding them and placing them inside the large canvas side bag and ride my bike while throwing the papers onto the lawns of the subscribing homeowners, often until dusk. In the rain the papers got a plastic bag, otherwise green rubber bands bound the tri-folded news. And then once a month I would walk the neighborhood knocking doors to collect the $2 per subscriber. I much preferred the time on my bike rather than the time chasing money. That hasn’t changed.

What has changed for me personally is that for the past nine years I have had the privilege to share a weekly column on the inside of a newspaper and a really good paper at that. The Journal Record is Oklahoma’s oldest business publication and since 1903 scores of hardworking reporters, designers, editors, printers and staff have consistently created an award-winning daily general business and legal publication. It’s been an honor to be an occasional columnist among those hard-working folks.

What has changed for the industry since 1903 is monumental. Gone are the Norman Rockwell-esque newspaper routes across America, replaced in part by online subscribers and clicks to drive readers’ interest and revenue. Color, font size, specialty sections and even the size of headlines compared to the size of news stories have all changed. But one thing hopefully has remained true: Americans need real and accurate news to not only sustain, but to improve, the greatest experiment in human governance, this American adventure of ours. And we need to actually read it for it to matter.

Joseph Pulitzer famously said: “What a newspaper needs in its news, in its headlines, and on its editorial page is terseness, humor, descriptive power, satire, originality, good literary style, clever condensation and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” And although he is best known for the Pulitzer Prizes created from his endowment of Columbia University, he is less known, ironically, for the use of “yellow journalism” (along with his chief rival William Randolph Hearst) to appeal to broader masses through lesser researched, or less accurate “news.”

Today, my car radio presets for satellite news scroll through CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC and the BBC. When those five prove frustratingly weak, biased or more ads than substance, the sixth preset is the comedy station for a much-needed break from it all. But we can’t take too many breaks from it all, or the hot air and yellow journalism risk replacing the importance of accuracy, fair reporting, deep thinking and the power of sunshine for our society.

So Thank You. Thank you to you readers for your interest in this publication and the importance of good journalism from these full-time professionals at The Journal Record. Thank you to those of you in journalism and news today who actually strive to be accurate, who know being balanced is more than a slogan and it requires genuine effort, and to those of you working long hours to provide today’s 24/7 news appetite, but who know that no matter how late the story, the truth is always timely.

I am grateful for you. And I am grateful for the chance to have shared energy and environmental ideas and observations for Oklahoma and beyond these past years, in a publication that strives every day to deliver the truth. Thank you.

Jim Roth has been appointed to serve as the new dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law beginning July 1, and as an alum of OCU Law, will be enjoying that life’s full-circle opportunity of service.

NewsOK Q&A: Surface owners have rights regarding oil and gas development

Zac Bradt

Zac Bradt is an attorney in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. He represents both privately-owned and public companies in a wide variety of oil and gas matters, with a strong emphasis on oil and gas title examination.

In this article, Attorney Zachary K. Bradt discusses protections land owners have in regards to surface rights in oil and gas exploration.

Q: Why should surface owners be concerned about the development of oil and gas?

A: In Oklahoma, courts have ruled that the mineral estate is superior to the surface estate for purposes of oil and gas development. Oil and gas operators have the right to enter upon your property and make reasonable use of the surface to explore for oil and gas.

Q: As a surface owner in Oklahoma, what laws are in place to protect my interests?

A: In an effort to better protect the rights of surface owners throughout the state, the Oklahoma Legislature passed the Surface Damage Act that went into effect on July 1, 1982. Prior to July 1, 1982, operators had the right to enter upon a surface owner’s property and make reasonable use of it to conduct their operations without paying any damages. With the passage of the Surface Damage Act, surface owners were afforded more protections and operators were required to follow procedural steps as defined under the act before entering upon the property.

Q: What procedural requirements does an operator have to meet?

A: Operators are first required to send a letter by certified mail providing notice of their intent to drill and informing the surface owner of the proposed location of the well and the approximate date drilling will commence. Within five days of delivery, the operator must engage in good-faith negotiations with the surface owner. If the parties agree upon damages, a written contract is executed, damages are paid, and drilling operations can commence.

Q: What if the surface owner and operator don’t reach an agreement?

A: If the good-faith negotiations don’t result in an executed damages contract, the operator must petition the court for the appointment of appraisers. Then, an operator may enter the property and commence its operations. Although drilling may be commenced, the determination of surface damages will remain before the court. The three appraisers (one from each party, who then choose a third) will inspect the property and submit a report to the court estimating the surface damages. Once the report is submitted, you can accept the suggested amount or challenge in court. Before you demand court consideration, you should make yourself aware of the related costs.


Published: 5/22/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article:

Roth: Reasons to stay ‘air aware’ 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 21, 2018.

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

Roth: Reasons to stay ‘air aware’ in Oklahoma

Often Missouri is referred to as the Show Me State, yet we Oklahomans also typically like to see things ourselves to believe them. Yet, there are realities around us too opaque for the human eye, such as air quality and impacts to our health.

Thursday’s ozone warning, a second warning this month, was just such a reality reminding us of the rising temperatures and the growing dangerous levels of particulate matter that rise with warmer months in Oklahoma’s more urban areas. The Air Quality Index forecast, which prompted the warning, showed an AQI of 101, a level described as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” The accompanying health message indicates that “active children and adults, and people with lung disease, such as asthma, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”

Now before you rejoice that an ozone warning simply provides a great excuse to put off mowing your lawn, for many Oklahomans it’s a much more serious challenge to their day. But first, let’s understand what makes up the ozone levels and the accompanying dangers.

This amazing Earth of ours has both naturally occurring and human-made pollution, which together create air quality issues impacting human health. And while I recognize a few (a very few, mostly political scientists, not science scientists) outliers still refute the enormous scientific consensus that human activity leads to climate impacts and climate change, have you ever noticed that our ozone health warnings usually apply only to Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, where humans congregate and commute, where factories churn out industrial output, where cars, homes and buildings emit pollutions by their very existence? But I digress.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality does a great job monitoring the air quality across Oklahoma and providing advice and warnings to the public when conditions could be hazardous to our health. Bad air quality can affect everybody’s health and can be particularly harmful to fast-growing young children and aging seniors with reduced immune systems. It even has direct economic impacts through loss of working days and increased health care costs. It can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

And while we can make a marginal difference ourselves, the enormity of the situation really requires collective group efforts, which is why the Clean Air Act and related environmental regulations are designed to protect those vulnerable Oklahomans on days like Thursday. Ozone is one of six common air pollutants identified in the CAA, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls these “criteria air pollutants” because their levels in our outdoor air need to be limited based upon health criteria for Americans.

Ground-level ozone is the primary component of smog and it forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds chemically react with sunlight of hot, windless days. Bad ozone itself is not emitted directly into the air, but is created from that chemical reaction (from other polluting resources emissions) when in the presence of sunlight. These pollutants come from a variety of sources including electric power plants, cars and trucks, construction equipment, gas-powered engines of all kinds, industrial facilities and even your backyard charcoal grills.

Unhealthy levels of ozone can cause increased risk of respiratory infection, throat irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, aggravation of asthma and other respiratory diseases and can even add dangers to people with diabetes, emphysema and cardiovascular diseases. During higher level of ozone days, the risks and impacts are made worse by activity and exercise outside.

There are actions that each of us can take to alleviate the risk, reduce air pollution and protect our health. If interested, please check out AirNow at the EPA website for some great tips:

Also, in Tulsa please consider INCOG’s site:

And in Oklahoma City, ACOG’s site:

So in addition to being “weather aware” this time of year, it makes sense for us Oklahomans to be “air aware”
too, even if you can’t see the pollution with your own eyes. Trust me, your lungs and bodies know it’s there.

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 for a long-overdue legislative break

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 14, 2018.

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

Roth: Time for a long-overdue legislative break

Oklahoma’s Senate, and later, state House, adjourned sine die May 4, earlier than planned, and not without objection up to the bitter end.

This legislative session was one for the record books, though, to many, not in a positive way. Elected leaders began with a $425 million budget deficit, following multiple years of shrinking revenue and deficits.

But what felt different this year, besides the two special sessions that seemingly went off without a break after last May’s sine die, was the level of engagement by droves of individual constituents and even groups of newly formed advocates. That said, the greatest difference this session has to be that most state agencies received budget increases for the first time in more than a decade, to address many core services.

Our state’s energy industry was among those that had a tempestuous session, which featured a roller coaster of potential tax increases and threats of eliminated incentives, the details of which changed not by the day, but the hour.

Talk of incentives will likely always be a mood killer at a social engagement, as you either believe them to be an effective tool or despise them. My experience places me in the former camp most of the time. Incentives are economic development tools that, if used properly, can boost a nascent industry and provide real benefit to targeted area of industry or even a boost to a particular area of the state.

Grass-roots efforts like the teacher walkout, the Step Up initiative(s) and Restore Oklahoma’s ballot initiative petition to restore the state’s gross production tax to its historic 7-percent rate made hot topics of energy taxes and incentives among those Oklahomans who did not previously have reason to pay them much attention. Now, these issues are part of everyday conversation across the state and an informed electorate is always a good thing.

So how did it all close? The GPT incentive rate for the first 36 months of most wells’ production increased from 2 to 5 percent, then it moves to its typical rate of 7 percent.

These changes garnered mixed reaction from industry leaders, many of whom had previously supported an increase to 4 percent last October. Leaders in the wind industry had worked with lawmakers in past sessions to eliminate incentives in 2016 and 2017, although much debate in 2018 centered around the legacy cost of past tax credits.

One measure that failed to get enough votes was an effort to eliminate the refundability of those projects already in place, costing each wind project millions of dollars. The passage of this measure would have harmed investors, landowners and rural schools that all rely on royalties and local property taxes, as well as potentially send projects into default with lenders. The Senate saw this as ruinous to Oklahoma’s business reputation and rejected the House’s efforts here.

As I’ve said countless times, Oklahoma should be eagerly but shrewdly investing in all our state’s energy offerings, new and old, rather than attacking one or more forms of energy or industry. Oklahoma’s wind, oil, and natural gas are abundant, and so is our solar potential. Let’s hope the roller coaster that was this session does not permanently damage our state’s business reputation. We still need to attract out-of-state investment to lift all boats here in Oklahoma.

We should all find ways to work together for the benefit of our entire state throughout the year. Energy wars make the whole state look risky, whether in session or not. But for now Oklahomans, let’s enjoy a long-overdue break.

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.

Business websites under legal pressure

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 10, 2018.

Kathryn Terry

The emphasis of Kathryn D. Terry’s litigation practice is in the areas of insurance coverage, labor and employment law and civil rights defense. She also represents corporations in complex litigation matters.

By Phillips Murrah Director Kathryn D. Terry

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to government programs and services.

The third section of ADA, Title III, addresses places of public accommodation, such as retailers, hospitals and state agencies. Under these rules, and in general, places of business are obligated to provide access to physical locations in the form of wheelchair ramps, signs that feature braille, and other means by which patronage of businesses is made possible for disabled persons.

Currently, similar attention is being focused on websites, as many businesses offer information and opportunities and conduct commerce via their website. Lawsuits are being brought claiming that these websites should be fully usable for persons with disabilities, just like brick-and-mortar locations.

To address Title III compliance, the World Wide Web Consortium developed an evolving set of standardized guidelines for improving accessibility to website content. The most recent, widely accepted version is called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA, commonly referred to as WCAG 2.0 AA, which recommend, among many suggestions, text alternatives to graphics for visual disabilities, and captions to audio for those with hearing impairments.

Within the past few years, growing exponentially in 2017, lawsuits on behalf of disabled persons have been filed claiming website-related violations of ADA Title III. Recently, the lawsuits have been coming in waves, with online retailers being the first obvious targets, followed by online financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, both large and small.

While there are no laws mandating WCAG 2.0 AA compliance at this time, the absence of any regulatory requirement does not shield businesses from ADA liability under Title III. Most businesses that have more than 15 full-time employees are subject to the ADA, and even if a business has less than 15, Oklahoma’s state law still applies.

However, in Oklahoma, there is a new statute that requires prior notice and an opportunity to cure the website issues in advance of any litigation under state law only. Businesses should consider this statute carefully if they receive a demand or lawsuit.

Many businesses are smartly getting ahead of this issue by reviewing their websites to identify potential accessibility barriers and implementing WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines as part of regular IT upgrades.

Kathryn D. Terry is a director at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

NewsOK Q&A: For health care providers, safeguarding patients’ electronic health information is also an employment matter

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in Oklahoma healthcare law. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City healthcare attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses how safeguarding patients’ electronic health information is an employment matter with the Oklahoman newspaper.

Q: In preparation for an employee or other members of a health care company’s workforce quitting, what preventive steps can be taken to ensure that patients’ health information is protected?

A: Two particular measures are critical to health care providers, in their role as employers, to protect the private patient information. Those are preparation and training. First, advance preparation is essential. Administrative, technical and physical safeguards are mandated by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and its amendments, and just as we recommend with regard to all types of health care compliance and regulations, a compliance plan should be in place to provide security for protected health information electronically maintained. The person responsible for a health care practice or company’s IT should perform periodic risk assessments, and sufficient access termination procedures should also be in place. Second, an important part of prevention is proper training. Just as we recommend preparation to respond to identity theft, employers must identify the individuals responsible for safeguarding electronically maintained protected health information and responding to a breach, and provide them with appropriate training. Since health care is such a labor-intensive industry, a high rate of personnel turnover requires proportionate re-training and monitoring of employees regarding compliance with privacy and other regulatory requirements.

Q: You mentioned termination procedures — what procedures provide effective deterrents to unauthorized use or access to electronically maintained protected health information in such situations?

A: As a part of an overall separation procedure, there are some critical checkpoints along the way. Health care providers/employers are advised to standardize the process and create a checklist of steps to be taken when an individual leaves. Document that these steps have been taken, including the return of any company equipment. Next, if the company or practice is large enough to have departments, it is important to quickly alert the department or staff members responsible for changing access to electronically maintained protected health information, deactivating or deleting user accounts and monitoring access. Also, after these and other important steps are carried out, I recommend a post-termination audit to verify that all necessary steps to cut off access to electronically maintained protected health information have been taken.

Q: What steps must be taken to terminate access to electronically maintained protected health information?

A: Such steps, in addition to terminating user accounts and reclaiming computers, laptops, iPads and cellphones, should include terminating access to the physical space, which may require changing locks, access codes, and authorized individuals lists. Obviously, keys, fobs, ID badges, card keys and other items by which the former employee gained access to the physician space must be reclaimed or reprogrammed so that access by the former employee or other former member of your company’s workforce to secure areas with electronically maintained protected health information is no longer possible. For all former employees, and particularly for those with remote access, deactivation of any remote accounts and accessibility should reach all levels of access so that portals, web access and email services are no longer accessible.


Published: 5/9/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article:

Roth: Intuitive energy trend?

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 7, 2018.

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

Roth: Intuitive energy trend?

A good strategic partnership is even better when it can help the environment and a company’s bottom line. Intuit, known best for software programs TurboTax and QuickBooks, has partnered with Just Energy, a Texas retail energy company, on an exciting and unique renewable energy affinity program, unveiled just before Earth Day.

Under the partnership, Intuit plans to share its corporate wind power procurement in Texas with commercial and residential customers, providing renewable energy at discounted prices. This innovative program was created with assistance from Renewable Power Direct, a national green energy marketer.

Intuit’s affinity program, Purely Green, features three-year contracts for residential service offered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at 9.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate that appears to be lower than much of the brown power offers in the market at this time. This partnership leverages the environmental benefits but also offers the collective buying power to make green energy more affordable for all.

Google, Target, Wal-Mart, and General Motors are known for buying clean energy. Right here in our state, the Google data center buys its power from Oklahoma wind farms and the Grand River Dam Authority’s hydropower. While some of these corporations have internal commitments to reduce environmental impacts, for others, it’s just good business. Some companies simply buy the clean power for its lower cost. As GM’s global manager of renewable energy said last year, “it’s been primarily all driven off economics.”

The lower energy bills Intuit and other trailblazing companies enjoy can be attributed to several causes. Renewable technology hard costs continue to plummet, federal and state incentives have contributed to overall savings, and power purchase agreements provide the ability to negotiate terms deemed fair by those contracting, as well as offer a stable, reliable price for the purchaser and the buyer over an extended period of time.

As here, economies of scale allow the Intuit program to be cheaper for many. The company’s approach to sharing its power with others may be the first of its kind. Renewable Power Direct CEO Eric Alam expects “other large companies that buy wind and solar energy to begin exploring how best to share and leverage their green energy choices for customers and employees. This could significantly boost future demand for renewable energy and greatly expand the climate benefits of corporate green power programs.”

Here’s hoping others follow suit to save money and Mother Earth, while also helping to develop our region’s clean energy options.

(Disclosure: Jim Roth currently serves on the board of directors of the American Clean Skies Foundation, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., focused on American natural gas and clean energies, which was founded by the late Aubrey McClendon and maintains an interest in Renewable Power Direct.)

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 pay close attention to our 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 April 30, 2018.

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

Roth: Time to pay close attention to our energy future

Last week, I discussed Oklahoma and U.S. exports and economic development.

Electricity is one obvious requirement for all of that productivity. Farmers rely on it to pump water for crops, manufacturers and the industrial sector are one of the largest customers of utility companies, at the other end of the spectrum, you and I need it to charge our phones and make coffee in the morning to begin our own productive days.

When we consider how we obtain the electrons to enable this productivity, a natural next step is to contemplate the larger infrastructure that makes it possible.

Oklahoma is a member of the 14-state Southwest Power Pool. The SPP dispatches the least expensive energy first, and Oklahoma’s affordable, abundant wind and natural gas help keep prices low for the entire region, while providing a boost to our state’s exports.

As we plan for the future, one important consideration in the bulk power space is the health of the electric grid, which our utilities, with our financial assistance, are constantly repairing and upgrading. With Puerto Rico in mind, we are reminded it is an uphill battle, to say the least.

The 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card gave U.S. electric infrastructure a D+ due to its substantial age and congestion issues. Most of it was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 10-year life expectancy. Today, erratic weather and severe storms, combined with much greater demand for electricity increase grid health concerns. Add to these the modern-day threat of cyberterrorism, which has become a real risk to the security of our grid system.

With all of this in mind, we would be well-served to pay close attention to our energy future, both in terms of cost and security. After all, what good is investing millions of dollars into infrastructure that can be shut down remotely from a foreign country?

Discussions of grid reliability are ubiquitous lately. Sen. Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently discussed the risks and consequences of an attack on the power grid. The following is a paraphrase, but his comments went something like, “we may be investing in the best planes, tanks, and guns, when much of the conflict in the 21st century will be in the realm of misinformation, disinformation, and cyberwarfare; and I don’t think we’re ready.”

Just this month, commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission referred to attacks on the grid as “constant” and of great concern.

As their costs continue to fall, distributed generation and smart grids are looking more promising and practical than ever before. Technology is rapidly changing. Consider when businesses each maintained huge in-house servers. The now outmoded technology is slower, more expensive to repair, and less reliable than cloud storage.

So, what is the future of the power grid? It is too early to know, but my guess is citizens will continue to demand the safest, cleanest, cheapest, and most reliable forms of power. A recent case-in-point: The United Kingdom just went 55 hours without burning coal and now has more offshore wind than any other country.

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 and the future for exports

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 23, 2018.

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

Roth: Oklahoma and the future for exports

The U.S. exports both goods and services with major categories in the former including food, beverage, and feed. Service exports exceed goods exports, and include things like travel and transportation, financial and insurance services, and intellectual property.

Our country’s largest goods export was soybeans, while the largest services export was in the travel and transportation sectors. The service sector is said to employ five times more people than those making goods.

Economists caution that the potential trade war could hit Midwestern states the hardest, especially states that produce soybeans, corn, or grains. The protectionism rationale in favor of the steel and aluminum tariffs is already said to be counterproductive by some analysts and commentators. One thing is for sure, it has many people talking about international trade and tariffs, and locally, our state’s own exports are being discussed.

Oklahoma exported more than $5 billion worth of goods and services last year. The state’s largest category was in civilian aircraft, engines, and parts, followed by automatic data processing storage units. Parts of pumps for liquids, cotton, and swine are next on the list. In addition to these goods, Oklahoma has decades of experience exporting fuel, like natural gas, through our system of pipelines.

In 1931, construction of a high-pressure pipeline from Oklahoma’s Panhandle to the Chicago area was completed, enabling our state to market this resource far from where it was released. Typically, more than one-fourth of Oklahoma’s natural gas gross withdrawals are consumed within the state.

Like Oklahoma’s aircraft parts, cotton, swine, natural gas, and crude oil, we are now developing more electricity through wind than our state’s load requires. Consequently, just like our oil and natural gas, we will continue to increase our export of wind electricity, although a great majority of it is consumed within our state. But, unlike our oil and natural gas resources, electricity generated from Oklahoma’s wind is a packaged, delivered energy. In other words, it is ready to go as soon as it is generated. Plus, as we were reminded the last week or so, it is abundant.

The dispatch of electricity, like all technological advancements, is evolving. Beginning in the 1950s we constructed interstate highways, and now we have a giant grid of surface transportation.

Similarly, electricity on the wires grid is evolving from local generation and consumption to regional power grids like the Southwest Power Pool, of which Oklahoma is a member. Soon we should be unlocking the technology to send Oklahoma electrons to places like Chicago and beyond, just like we do our natural gas.

On the other hand, we are also seeing more people desire off-grid power for a number of different reasons to discuss another day. It is an exciting and unpredictable future for goods and services and the impacts of consuming both in new ways.

One last thought on exports: Unfortunately, Oklahoma has years of experience exporting another valuable Oklahoma resource, talented young brains. Let’s hope we can figure out how to stop that trend by attracting a growing and vibrant, well-educated economy where innovation and investment unleash our best potential. That’s the first trade war we should fight: investing in our people, educating their children and growing their full potential.

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 latest buzzzz on pollinators

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 9, 2018.

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

Roth: The latest buzzzz on pollinators

Nothing says, “April Fool’s” like a high of 40 degrees the day after it was 72. It was a rather timely coincidence since by last column featured the difficult work of climatologists in determining just what the crazy weather might do next. It isn’t just humans that the changing weather affects; climate change impacts bees and butterflies, crops, streams and lakes, bird migration, and ultimately, entire ecosystems.

The monarchs are just getting to Oklahoma on their 2,000-plus mile spring journey. These amazing insects take cues from the environment and cannot survive a long, cold winter, so climate change is especially harmful for them. If you are looking for a way to attract them to your yard, they rely on milkweed as their sole host plant. Of course, reducing or eliminating your use of pesticides and herbicides is important, too.

Honey bees have gotten more attention in the past decade or more, as does anything we are at risk of losing. While there are many possible reasons for this phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, the fact is, we lost 10 million beehives between 2007 to 2013, which is twice as many as normal. Thanks to awareness and action, great efforts are in place to save these pollinators, whose work our very food web relies upon.

Losing bees and butterflies has economic impacts on the agricultural industry since many crops, worldwide, are pollinated by Western honey bees. Around one-third of the food we consume relies upon pollinators like butterflies and bees. Dramatic weather can lower the quantity and quality of crops in an area due to drought, heat waves, and heavy rainfall. Oklahoma is an agriculture state so we know firsthand how distressing and unproductive a drought followed by a gully-washer can be.

So what can we do? We can focus on what we know and stay tuned to what scientists continue to discover. We know that climate change’s effect on agriculture is felt the strongest in the world’s poorest countries, so we can support efforts to teach these populations farming techniques that support a more stable food supply.

We know pesticides can be especially devastating to water sources, with the algal blooms in Lake Erie as one disturbing example; so we can cease or minimize our use of pesticides and herbicides, or use natural versions. We can opt for native grasses, flowers, and plants, which will both help our pollinators and require less water to survive. We can purchase local food from our co-ops and farms. There are tons of great resources online to learn more about each of these fascinating topics.

For us Oklahomans interested in helping, please check out a great resource provided by the Tulsa Zoo and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, in Poteau, Oklahoma, and their “Native Plants for Native Pollinators in Oklahoma” guide.

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 quote to remember this spring

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 2, 2018.

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

Roth: A quote to remember this spring

It is officially spring. At least here in the Northern Hemisphere. In Oklahoma we’ve lost an hour of sleep but some of us enjoy the earlier sunrise and later sunset the longer days offer.

We Oklahomans know that with spring come tornado season and our obsessive assessment of the weather. Lucky for us, we have the National Weather Center in Norman, with some of the foremost scientists in the field doing their best to evaluate our crazy weather and warn us when necessary. The center is a sub-organization of the National Weather Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Climate Prediction Center, also a part of NWS, forecasts future weather conditions relative to what is normal, as opposed to daily weather forecasts that aim to predict things like high and low temperatures and rainfall potential. Each year in March, the Climate Prediction Center releases its Spring Outlook report. This year, the report predicts moderate flooding, warmer-than normal temperatures, and persistent drought that will affect more than one-fourth of the country from California through Oklahoma and the Great Plains.

Another timely release for the erratic weather season was a new study that links warming Arctic temps to colder weather, again. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. Peer review is one indicator of reliable research. A peer-reviewed publication requires the author to offer strong evidence for the conclusions set forth. Other scientists in that field read the work and provide feedback as to whether they regard it as sufficiently high quality to publish. The process is somewhat analogous to a Daubert hearing for legal evidence. These methodologies are not perfect, but they provide an opportunity for scrutiny, and scrutiny can reveal the weakness in an idea, thus allowing it to be improved or rejected.

Increasingly, climate-related science is subject to intense scrutiny, at times more Draconian than Daubert. Despite this, scientists persevere, and this study reveals results similar to those that have preceded it in earlier studies. Generally, that climate change is not fake news; specifically, this study revealed a nexus between warming temperatures in the Arctic and an increase in severe winter weather in the eastern U.S., and did so more extensively than previous studies. While the scientists duke this out, one concept that has been continually proven is that greenhouse gases are warming the planet, and the Arctic is warming more quickly than other locations. Since science and our ability to understand the things around us is always improving, I pose, at the very least, that we remain open-minded to repeatedly demonstrated research.

The author Robert Pirsig is quoted as saying something really provocative about dogma. “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because their dogmas are in doubt.”

In other words, loud people on the subject of climate change are probably less secure about their beliefs (and the evidence to support it) than those that more quietly rely on established, peer-tested science. So as the raucous Oklahoma spring season begins, especially as Easter coincides with the change between March and April, it might be a good time to read up on the Climate Prediction Center’s recent study and then see for yourself what climate unfolds.

Oh, and one more favorite quote to remember: Science doesn’t care if we believe it or not, it just is.

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.

The ins and outs of impeachment

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 29, 2018.

Mark E. Hornbeek

Mark E. Hornbeek represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Mark E. Hornbeek

It has been a Stormy few months for the current administration. With the headlines full of names like Robert Mueller, James Comey and Vladimir Putin, there has been plenty of speculation surrounding the possibility of impeachment. Talking heads love to throw the term around, but how does impeachment work?

The Constitution doesn’t give much guidance into the impeachment process. The ability to bring impeachment charges against the president, the vice president or a public officer is given to the House of Representatives, which investigates public officials and then puts each impeachment charge to a simple majority vote. Afterward, the Senate has the ability to convict the accused by conducting a trial with a requirement of a two-thirds vote to remove the accused from office.

There are three grounds for impeachment, two of which are self-explanatory: bribery and treason. The third, high crimes and misdemeanors, is more akin to “covfefe,” in that it could mean practically anything. The framers chose this term in an attempt to clarify an earlier draft of the Constitution, which used the word “maladministration.” Perhaps there should have been a third draft for further explanation, as public officials have been impeached and convicted for offenses as diverse as perjury, tax evasion and even drunkenness. That last one seems particularly spiteful.

Simple incompetence generally doesn’t qualify as an impeachable offense, but even so, Congress has wide latitude to determine who deserves impeachment, and both parties have been accused of using the device as a political weapon.

Historically, a whopping 60 impeachment proceedings have been initiated by the House, but few have been successful. To date, only two presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached for violating federal law, followed 130 years later by Bill Clinton’s impeachment for obstruction of justice and perjury. Neither was convicted by the Senate.

Surprisingly, the worst perpetrators of high crimes and misdemeanors appear to be federal judges. A total of eight judges have been impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. Three more judges have been impeached but, not liking their chances, resigned before the Senate could hold a vote.

If America does, indeed, have to endure another impeachment, Semisonic’s Closing Time would make an appropriate theme song for the proceedings: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

Mark E. Hornbeek is a litigation attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah in Oklahoma City.

Roth: The Russians can’t take your microgrid

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 26, 2018.

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

Roth: The Russians can’t take your microgrid

On the list of benefits to increasing our use of renewable energy, safety is always one of them. Distributed generation, in particular, is more secure than our current energy infrastructure, and apparently Russia is out to prove it.

The situation we now face has been building. You might remember late last year when it was revealed that a National Security Agency contractor moved highly classified files to his home computer. The files detailed how the NSA both protects against cyberattacks and infiltrates the networks of others. Russian hackers were identified as locating these files through popular antivirus software the contractor used.

The software was manufactured by Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based company whose antivirus software was used by the U.S. government until legislation was passed banning its use due to national security concerns. The company repeatedly denied its involvement in cyber-espionage or that it was in any way tied to or influenced by any government. These efforts escalated and Russian hackers began attacking networks of smaller commercial companies that were deemed weaker and more vulnerable. They were practicing, so to speak, to prepare for the real aim: our energy systems, including the electricity grid.

Fast-forward to the latest development, in which Russian hackers had infiltrated U.S. systems, including energy, nuclear, water utilities, and other sectors. The attackers had acquired the ability to shut off electricity, they just had not acted on it yet. Perhaps Russians rightly realize that Americans won’t stand for having their lights turned off by a foreign adversary. Tinkering with our elections may be tolerable for some, but most won’t tolerate having their lives jeopardized with energy disruptions.

It isn’t only energy networks that need to be on high alert against cybersecurity – most critical infrastructure is managed online. So what are we to do? One answer comes through distributed generation. Some cities have been working on microgrids that improve local grid resiliency. Our military is developing solar-based microgrids to ensure energy security and continued operation during emergencies and prolonged outages.

Solar, in particular, is more cost-effective than the diesel-powered generators commonly used during power outages. Solar energy also reduces the need to rely upon the supply chain for fuel delivery. These emergency preparedness efforts are a no-brainer for critical facilities like military, hospitals, and all levels of government. And, if states would allow for third-party investment and leasing in distributed generation, the number of partnerships and benefits quickly multiply.

Cybersecurity is a rapidly developing area of the law and our state is fortunate to have the Judge Alfred P. Murrah Center for Homeland Security Law and Policy at Oklahoma City University’s School of Law, right here in Oklahoma City. The Murrah Center is preparing the vital group of future lawyers with its focus on domestic terrorism prevention, domestic security insight, legal analysis, and counterterrorism.

The center’s annual event, the National Summit on Homeland Security Law, takes place April 19 at OCU Law and provides a unique opportunity that brings together experts in the field and provides information that is applicable to most everyone. Tickets to the summit are available to the public; more info is forthcoming and can be found on the school’s website, assuming your computer still has access to electricity, at

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: Tariffs affecting American energy?

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 19, 2018.

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

Tariffs affecting American energy?

The threat of President Trump’s tariffs have again managed to bring together groups sometimes at odds with one another, when they attempted to dissuade the administration from imposing new tariffs.

Everyone from the American Petroleum Institute to the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association, to congressional Republicans, to the broader stock market had negative reactions to the news of a 25-percent tariff on most steel imports and a 10-percent tariff on most aluminum.

Those on one end of that spectrum say the move could set off a trade war, while the other end poses that at the very least the result of tariffs could contradict the stated goals of an “America First” economic plan. World leaders everywhere in between denounce the move as damaging to international trade and nonconforming with World Trade Organization rules. We’ll see what they do.

The implications of the tariffs could be vast, as higher prices on steel and aluminum pose a real threat to many American industries, where those materials are significant inputs, and whose markets rely on low prices from imported materials.

The tariffs could have an unintended detrimental effect on American jobs for industries such as cars and energy. It is the same concept with tariffs on solar cells and modules. True, solar tariffs are sure to make panels from China and elsewhere more expensive to import, but the price increase on equipment, and thus entire projects, could scare off potential solar customers. Fewer solar customers lead to lower demand; lower demand means less solar jobs. With tariffs on steel and aluminum, the ripple effects are even more wide-reaching.

As they say, “all roads lead to Rome.” While there are other means to this end, Trump opts to penalize imports in an attempt to protect or prop up industries at home. But the tariffs won’t affect everyone – an exemption for Canada and Mexico has been discussed if those countries are willing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has been a frank and ardent opponent of the agreement. There is also a potential carve-out for U.S. parties who can demonstrate a demand for steel and aluminum that cannot be met domestically. Many folks across the energy industry want in on this exemption for obvious reasons, but the terms of the carve-out have yet to materialize.

Will the tariffs produce stronger steel and aluminum industries here at home, or will they cause trade wars worldwide? As per usual, we’ll have to wait and see, but for now most observers and energy industry participants suggest the effects will inflate their prices only nominally.

For now, we have the European Commission president’s pledge to slap tariffs on iconic U.S. exports, many from states described as Trump country, such as Midwestern wheat, Kentucky bourbon, blue jeans, and Harleys. 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: Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

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 12, 2018.

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

Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

We know electric vehicle sales are charging ahead, but where do we charge them? Charging is no problem if you have a driveway and an outdoor electric outlet, or live in California, where there are about 12,000 charging stations (compare this to Germany, which currently has the same). But what about those who live in multifamily units or park on the street?

Lucky for us, there are plenty of smart, motivated people working on this opportunity. I call it an opportunity because if implemented properly, the accessibility of electric vehicle charging won’t amount to a challenge. Moreover, the charging infrastructure market is projected to grow to about $20 billion in the next five years.

For clarification, because the terminology varies, a charging pile is a slower, single station using alternate current level 1 and AC level 2 charging you might find in a parking lot or other public place where a vehicle would be charged for an extended time. A charging station is more like a gas station with multiple, higher-speed, usually direct current chargers. “Charging station” is commonly used for either of those examples.

In Oklahoma, charging stations are increasingly popping up around us. The City Center East parking garage in downtown Oklahoma City just installed new stations, and solar-powered EV charging projects have recently come online by Oklahoma-based companies Delta Energy and Design in and around OKC, and Francis Solar in and around Tulsa.

Globally, new ideas continue to develop with regard to EV charging. A German telecommunications company just announced plans to more than double the country’s number of charging stations by converting its distribution boxes to standard and fast-charging stations by 2020. In England and elsewhere, lampposts have been retrofitted for electric vehicle charging points. Last year China announced it would build 167,000 charging stations. This is a logical next step there since leaders plan an eventual outright ban on fossil fuel vehicles and have already made it more difficult to build them. India, the world’s third-largest oil importer, has plans to sell only electric cars by 2030. It, too, has begun to invest heavily in charging infrastructure.

Once more of us are driving EVs and the infrastructure is in place, the focus will turn to how quickly cars can be charged. India’s former minister of new and renewable energy has advocated for swapping of batteries at charging stations, rather than recharging, to reduce time at the pump. If that comes to fruition, I suppose we could call it a trading post?

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: Electric vehicle market charging ahead

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 5, 2018.

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

Electric vehicle market charging ahead

Two million and counting. This was the title of the 2017 Electric Vehicle Outlook report by the International Energy Agency.

The market for electric vehicles continues to gain ground, although relatively speaking, it remains a small percentage of all U.S. auto sales. Still, every major car manufacturer has electrification plans, meaning their vehicles will operate using some amount of electric power.

Certain companies like Volvo are even vowing to cease building solely internal combustion engine vehicles. That is, the company does and will continue building hybrids, which by definition contain both gas and electric components. But like its competitors, Volvo will shift focus to all-electric vehicles, as sales for hybrids have declined, and EVs have become more ecological and economical.

The industry has evolved from the Prius-style gasoline-electric hybrid, to plug-in hybrids, to fully electric vehicles, sometimes called battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen cell vehicles. Toyota introduced the Prius to the U.S. in 2001 and still holds about 80 percent of the hybrid market.

If current trends continue, many predict this gasoline-electric-style hybrid will be obsolete before the combustion engine. Several causes support this notion. The shale revolution resulted in an influx of American oil and gas. An abundance of oil has made gas prices lower than 10 years ago when they peaked at $4.11 and the U.S. was primarily an importer of oil. This means consumers are at least slightly less concerned about gas prices, making a hybrid less appealing.

Next, an abundance of natural gas helped stabilize electricity prices, and making it more financially feasible to use electricity to charge a vehicle. Plus, the technology continues improving – batteries hold a charge longer and recharge quicker than ever. So, depending on consumer predilection, be it to save money on gas, to save the environment, or, simply to own the latest automobile technology, choices will likely include a battery electric vehicle or a gas vehicle, or, eventually as more fueling infrastructure is built, a hydrogen cell vehicle.

The U.S. is not the only country with growth in this industry – last year China led the way in the number of electrified cars on the road. Such a boon for battery electric vehicles will become an opportunity for the electric power sector.

Unlike many developing countries that lack consistent electricity for even basic needs, in the U.S. we enjoy such reliable electric power sources that many of us can elect to recharge electric vehicles overnight while we sleep. Or perhaps even using the electricity harnessed during the day via our rooftop solar panels at our places of work. Either way, the trend helps one imagine a future where your car is a large battery with four wheels that is ebbing and flowing electrons into an energy market and you are paying or being paid as the case may be.

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 independence closer to reality

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 26, 2018.

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

Energy independence closer to reality

As American oil production surpasses 10 million barrels per day, the latest World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency indicates the U.S. is poised to continue its record-breaking oil and gas production.

The report also predicts that by 2025, the U.S. could become the world’s largest exporter of LNG (we already export more natural gas than we import), and will begin to export more oil than we import, once thought unimaginable. The U.S. has not been a net exporter of oil since the 1950s, and following the 1973 oil crisis, was prohibited from exporting crude. The ban was intended to counteract future crises, and was lifted by the Obama administration in 2015.

Flashback to a previous World Energy Outlook report from 2012 when the IEA indicated the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil exporter by 2020 and become energy-independent 10 years later. That report also predicted that the U.S. would become a net exporter of crude oil around 2030. As recently as 2014, the U.S. was third behind Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil production.

We Oklahomans are familiar with the rest of the story, how technological advancement in drilling and fracking, or the shale renaissance, unlocked huge reserves of oil and gas and altered the energy landscape of Oklahoma and the world.

By 2016, the U.S. was exporting crude oil to nearly 30 countries. Last year, monthly exports exceeded 1 million barrels per day, but the U.S. still imports around 8 million BPD of crude oil, which is why the forecast of net exportation is really something.

The U.S. isn’t the only country reshaping its energy landscape. Saudi Arabia, through its Vision 2030 initiative to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil, is planning multifaceted changes to its energy industry this year. For now, Saudi has tentatively planned a 2018 initial public offering of its government-owned oil company Saudi Aramco. If projections are accurate, offering 5 percent of the company could raise up to $100 billion and would place the company’s valuation at or above $1.5 trillion. Saudi is also considering investments in U.S. shale interests, and as I discussed last week, is investing heavily in renewables. These possibly transformative steps within the Kingdom are occurring as American energy production and strength grows and Saudis grow nervous for their economy.

This month a supertanker full of American crude left the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, for the People’s Republic of China. This was the first time for an export of this size that did not require smaller ships to shuttle their multiple cargoes out to supertankers waiting in deeper waters. LOOP, the only deep-water port in the U.S., has been instrumental in offloading imported oil, and now its ability to handle these massive tankers will both lower the costs and simplify the logistics of oil exports.

IEA reported this month that America’s net crude oil imports fell by 1.6 million barrels per day to just under 5 million bpd, the lowest level since the IEA began keeping this data in 2001. And the export of American crude jumped to just above 2 million bpd, close to a record high of 2.1 million hit in October, and those numbers have pushed our country’s net imports to a new low level. The promise of energy independence, at least on a domestic production and domestic consumption comparison, is growing closer to reality than ever.

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: Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

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 19, 2018.

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

Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

I have often said renewables are here to stay, in spite of some resistance from some corners of our economy.

Case in point, countries around the globe are investing in and developing renewable forms of energy in places that wouldn’t be that obvious. For instance, last year in the U.S., we installed more than 14.73 gigawatts of solar, while China installed more than twice that at 34.54 gigawatts.

While the technology for solar panels was created in the U.S., China’s embrace of the solar industry changed the economics. New research indicates that years of cheap Chinese solar panels dropped prices around the globe by 80 percent. China also dominates other industries the U.S. once led, currently surpassing us in the production of steel, automobiles, and cotton. China also leads the way in pollution as well as coal production at almost 4 billion short tons, compared to the United States’ 728 million short tons in 2016. It’s not all bad for the U.S. that China leads the way in solar; after all, the cheaper panels afforded the addition of hundreds of thousands of domestic solar installation jobs here in America.

But, there is more to this story. Renewable energy is being developed in other unexpected places.

In Saudi Arabia, the new crown prince and his energy minister are looking to diversify and grow the economy by maximizing the country’s vast sunlight. One example of this is a solar farm covering a massive parking lot at Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. For Saudi Arabia’s economy, oil has long been the kingpin – citizens get 50 percent of their electricity by burning oil.

But with new leadership (sometimes) comes new ideas, and the new goal is to install 41 gigawatts of solar by 2032. Questions about whether the plan will be implemented still remain. The benefits to the country include the price – with government-backing for projects, the energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels, and, with more citizens using renewables for their domestic energy needs, more Saudi oil is available for export.

These efforts won’t help China’s solar industry much; the bidding process requires the selected company to spend around 30 percent of total costs on domestic suppliers. A sort of “Arabia First” requirement.

Three other countries whose level of renewables might come as a bit of a surprise are Nicaragua, with plans to be powered by 90 percent renewables by 2020. Costa Rica, slightly more assertive than Nicaragua, aims to be completely carbon-neutral by 2021. And Uruguay, maybe the most impressive, is running on 95 percent renewables with only 10 years of effort, and all without subsidies or raising consumer costs.

These countries have geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind – hey, not unlike Oklahoma and its own diverse resources. But Nicaragua and Costa Rica have two things our state does not: volcanoes, which provide for vast geothermal energy, and government leaders who support the development of renewable technologies.

While we won’t have volcanoes anytime soon, we could stand to have more support to develop the many energy blessings found in our state. A sort of “Oklahoma First” energy policy, if you will.

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.

Avoiding construction contract litigation

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 15, 2018.

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Health Care Law.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton

Oklahoma heavy civil and oil and gas construction will likely increase in the near term due to increased activity in the oil and gas fields and President Trump’s proposed $1.5 trillion investment in infrastructure.

Often seen as a heavily litigious industry, construction projects don’t have to end in litigation if contracts are carefully drafted and parties enforce the provisions during the course of the project. Here are some points to consider when drafting and/or reviewing.

Know your deadlines. Most construction contracts impose liquidated damages in the event of delay. While substantial/final completion is likely non-negotiable, (sub)contractors should raise, and try to draft around, any potential milestone concerns during negotiations to prevent the assessment of liquidated damages or exercise of the contract default provisions. Additionally, all parties need to be aware of the timeline for making claims or submitting change orders. Both are often waived under the contract if the proponent of the claim/change doesn’t submit the appropriate notice to the appropriate person in the requisite period of time.

Know the payment scheme. Payments are also often a litigious issue in construction. All parties should be aware of lien and, if applicable, bond claim rights, as they vary based on who the contracting entity is and where the project is located. Additionally, “pay if paid” and “pay when paid” clauses should not be confused. “Pay if paid” clauses shift the risk for nonpayment to lower tiers if payment is not received from higher tiers. “Pay when paid” generally only acts to give the (sub)contractor time to pay after it receives payment. Case law suggests that “pay if paid” clauses would need to be explicit to be enforceable in Oklahoma, though no cases directly examine the clause.

Know your contracting partners. Conduct due diligence to ensure that those you are contracting with – at each tier – have the skills and financial stability to complete the project. Consider including (or modifying) clauses that allow suspension and/or termination of the contract, if the representations and warranties you relied on when deciding to enter into the contract were untrue or grossly overstated.

Know your contract. Finally, don’t simply sign the contract and put it in a drawer. All parties should know the provisions and educate their employees about provisions relevant to their scope of work.

Samuel D. Newton practices construction and oil & gas law at Phillips Murrah P.C.

Roth: Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

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 12, 2018.

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

Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

While this column was on hiatus, the president made his decision on the Section 201 International Trade case by, somewhat unsurprisingly, adding steep tariffs to solar cells and modules originating from China and several other countries. The tariff takes hold at 30 percent this year and will gradually decline to 15 percent in the fourth year.

During his tenure, Trump has been clear about his preference for coal over renewables, so he couldn’t likely squander this two birds, one stone opportunity to stick it to both the renewable energy industry and China. While it is true that cheap, imported panels have boosted the industry, huge investments, domestic job creation and low-cost clean energy accompanied that growth, which made for a complicated and contentious conflict.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many were troubled by the irony that Suniva and SolarWorld, the petition filers, asserted serious harm to the domestic solar industry, yet are foreign corporations, but both have headquarters in the U.S., which gave them standing to challenge the imports. Nonetheless, they prevailed over a massive response from the rest of the solar industry and others interested in trade practices.

One silver lining in the battle appeared when conservative groups ALEC and the Heritage Foundation came out against the tariffs. Their positions on the matter bolstered an already strong faction of those opposed to tariffs, and I am always optimistic when logic transcends politics. But, despite the efforts of the bipartisan opposition group, (not even a Sean Hannity commercial did the trick) the tariffs are the new normal for the solar industry.

But will the tariffs actually help American manufacturers ramp up, and what will those prices look like? Of course, this is yet to be seen. But those in the industry predict (and some have already seen) increases of 10-15 percent over total project costs. Those prices are obviously paid by American consumers. Prices increased upon the initial recommendations, and before Trump made a decision, as solar installers were stockpiling the affected equipment in preparation for what many knew would result.

Since tariffs are taxes, the end users are the ones who will eventually foot the bill. This decision has many, even supporters of the president, disappointed. Those in favor of a free market and especially those for free trade are calling the decision protectionist, while others are warning of a slippery slope not seen before in trade policy. The reason for the concern is that less than half of the petitions sent to the ITC have been granted any type of trade barrier, and since many believe this case lacked a definite injury to the industry, there are fears that other industries will file petitions with similar claims.

The great, hopeful fact that remains for America’s energy future, regardless of what this or any administration does to help or hinder it, is that Americans overwhelmingly want cleaner, renewable energy to power their lives. And as America further electrifies its future, Oklahoma’s sun and wind blessings should play a big role, so long as we don’t deny ourselves the future.

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 high cost of climate volatility

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 5, 2018.

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

The high cost of climate volatility

Natural disasters cost the United States $306 billion in 2017, matching a previous record set in 2011.

Hearing this, we Oklahomans can recall that last year’s tornado season, which resulted in one death in our state, was comparatively tame, although that is hardly a term to describe a tornado season or a loss of life.

The costs from the 2017 figures are mostly property damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and damage from wildfires that plagued the West Coast. And the numbers of lives lost and injured continue to grow.

States all across the country suffered damage from all forms of severe weather, including wildfires, resulting smoke and ash, droughts, floods, unseasonable tornadoes, damaging hail, excessive rain, dangerous winds, record snowfalls, and severe thunderstorms. Sixteen devastating weather events, each with a price tag over $1 billion, tested this country’s resolve and took lives.

I listed Maria, but this storm warrants its own discussion. Damage estimates are just under $100 billion for this hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and other nearby islands. Some parts of Puerto Rico remain without power still and will be for eight months or more as efforts to rebuild the electric grid continue. If that doesn’t make you want to put up solar panels or live free off the grid, I don’t know what will.

But surely it will get better? No, say scientists, climate change will continue to cause worse weather. Every state is experiencing erratic and above-average temperatures, five of which set record temps last year, and in December, Alaska experienced temps that were more than 15 degrees above average.

That was 2017. Right away, 2018 added insult to injury in California, when land that was raw and barren from the recent historic wildfires was pummeled by mudslides destroying homes and lives. While we can quantify the damage to property, the harm caused to humans is, in some cases, quite literally immeasurable.

For instance, there are physical health hazards from wildfires that accompany the smoke and ash that blanketed not only California, but also nearby Washington and Oregon. Even more difficult to measure are the psychological tolls that frightening weather events have on people. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with that concept in Oklahoma.

If you are like me, you like the optimistic, fresh start a new year offers. So here is a productive tool you can use to offset some of this human activity that leads to this troubling news. Previously I’ve mentioned the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator. This is a great way to live consciously while actively doing what you can to reduce your daily greenhouse gas emissions.

As the price of climate change and erratic weather continues to rise in American lives and property, every individual effort helps.

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.

NewsOK Q&A: Budget act makes auditing partnerships easier, more efficient

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: January 19, 2018
Click to see full story – Budget act makes auditing partnerships easier, more efficient

Click to see Erica K. Halley’s attorney profile

Erica K. Halley represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

Q: What is the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and why should LLCs and other partnerships pay attention?

A: Effective this month, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 changes how the Internal Revenue Service audits and assesses taxes of entities taxed as partnerships, including most limited liability companies. One such change includes replacing the “Tax Matters Partner” with the “Partnership Representative,” which is much more than a mere name modification. In essence, the act makes auditing partnerships easier and more efficient for the IRS, so understanding the weight of designating your Partnership Representative is critical in preparing for your company’s increased exposure to potential audits beginning this year.

Q: What is the difference between the Tax Matters Partner and the Partnership Representative?

A: There are two key differences between the Tax Matters Partner of the past and the Partnership Representative of the present and future. First, the Partnership Representative isn’t necessarily a partner (or member, in the case of an LLC) of the entity. Like a manager of an LLC, a Partnership Representative may be any person the company deems fit to serve in such role, who may or may not be an owner of the company. Second, the Partnership Representative has complete authority to act on behalf of the company when communicating with the IRS. Importantly, and unlike the laws previously in effect, there’s no statutory obligation to notify the partners or members of the existence or status of an audit, much less include them in any decisions that may significantly impact the tax treatment of the company.

Q: What do businesses need to do to prepare for the change?

A: The partners or members of a company will need to agree on the expectations they have for their Partnership Representative and the desired scope of his or her authority. Then, they should amend their company’s governing documents, such as their partnership agreement or operating agreement, accordingly. In addition to providing for the appointment, removal and replacement of the Partnership Representative, they also should consider demanding timely notice to each partner or member of all IRS communications. Other considerations include requiring the Partnership Representative to make certain elections on behalf of the entity, or obligating the Partnership Representative to use his or her best efforts. Companies also may want to add certain indemnification provisions that bind the Partnership Representative to his or her duties with respect to an audit. Finally, and essentially, they must designate their Partnership Representative on their entity’s return each year. As the IRS isn’t bound by any partnership or operating agreement, if a company fails to make the designation on the return, the IRS may select a company’s Partnership Representative for them.

What’s in a name? Tremendous value

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 4, 2018.

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

The holiday season is coming to an end, and most people have opened their Xboxes and Legos, eaten some HoneyBaked Ham, braved the cold in their North Face jackets and thrown away holiday trash in Hefty trash bags.

With a glut of advertising during the holidays, the power of brand recognition is obvious, and successful companies recognize the influence their names have on consumer behavior. This makes protecting a company’s trademark, typically the company’s name, critical, especially as their market exposure and customer base grows.

The trademark associated with the goods and services of a company is commonly one of its most valuable assets. For example, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Co., the fifth most valuable brand in 2017, has a market capitalization (total value of all outstanding stock) of $195 billion and the Coca-Cola name, alone, is worth $56.4 billion, which accounts for almost 30 percent of its value. To round out the top five corporate monikers, Apple takes the top spot with its name being worth $170 billion, followed by Google ($101.8B), Microsoft ($87B) and Facebook ($73.5B).

The same legal considerations of brand value for large companies applies equally for many smaller, growing companies and organizations. Because consumers instantly associate an entity’s name with its good or services, protecting the name with a trademark has tremendous value.

Generally, a business has common law rights to exclude others from using a trademark that is confusingly similar to its own trademark. The scope of this right greatly expands or contracts based on whether a trademark has been registered, and the level at which the mark is registered. There are two avenues to take when looking to protect a company’s trademark: file for a state trademark or a federal mark.

State trademarks are typically cheaper, faster and easier to obtain, yet they also afford far less protection. Conversely, federal marks have a more rigorous application process, cost more, and take longer, but they afford the greatest amount of protection since they provide protection throughout the United States and supersede state trademarks.

Smart company leaders spend significant time and money building the value of their company and brand, and they realize the importance of protecting the company’s most valuable consumer-facing asset by securing a trademark.

Cody J. Cooper is a patent attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Roth: Putting politics aside for renewable energy

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 27, 2017.

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

Putting politics aside for renewable energy

Green cities continue to emerge from the coal dust.

Optimistically, some leaders are even proving they will rise above politics with their efforts. After all, clean energy should not (and is not) about politics, anyhow.

Lately renewables are being chosen over other forms of energy for reasons of “dollars and sense.” I recently happened upon a piece about a Texas city that will be the first to use 100 percent renewables in U.S. News, which led me to that publication’s list of the 10 states using the most renewable energy. The top 10 are a bit surprising and extremely promising, especially when you consider all the abundant clean energy here in Oklahoma.

In these 10 places, it’s not about whether they were likely to have supported Obama’s Clean Power Plan or Trump’s plan to eradicate it; these leaders have run the numbers and are implementing renewables accordingly, because it’s in their citizens’ economic interests.

That Texas city, the city of Georgetown, despite being extremely conservative, is one of the first cities in the country to use 100 percent renewables. The mayor there, Dale Ross, intends for his legacy to be that the environment in his city, and thus the planet, will be better because of Georgetown’s efforts.

Renewable energy just makes sense, say Mayor Ross and other city leaders, so politics didn’t (and shouldn’t) play a role in the decision. When the city was looking for a new energy provider, they discovered that after deregulation of retail energy, renewables were more cost-effective. Additionally, policies former Texas Gov. Rick Perry put in place allowed for the installation of large generation tie lines to bring wind across the state from the windy west side. As a result, Georgetown locked in their rates with wind and solar energy for 20 years.

I love the mayor’s quote regarding that decision, “Do you think that the wind is going to stop blowing in Texas, and the sun is going to stop shining in Texas, before or after we run out of fossil fuels?”

Oklahoma has a chance to put politics aside, too. When something is cheaper and cleaner, logic should conquer politics. Recently, my friend Johnson Bridgwater, who runs the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about Oklahoma’s solar energy potential (it is enormous). He pointed to a map of the U.S. that indicated states with excellent “peak sun hours,” or those with the best potential for solar energy, and asked, “If this map revealed our oil and gas plays, would we sit on them?” No way. We’d materialize that energy. Which is what I hope our state will do. Our energy potential is before us, if we have the courage to remove politics and act in our citizens’ collective interests.

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: Coal ash disposal and verb tense

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 27, 2017.

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

Coal ash disposal and verb tense

Back in 2014, the Obama administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, passed a final rule called the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities regarding CCRs (coal combustion residuals or “coal ash”) disposal.

The rule addressed the concern that coal ash contains mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, and can and has leaked into groundwater, blown into the air, and decimated the surface.

But keeping in line with the idea you can’t please everyone, the rule was considered too lenient for some and too stringent for others. In fact, those in the former camp were dismayed the rule did not classify coal ash as toxic waste. What the final rule did do was to create regulations and standards concerning the disposal of the byproduct that comes from burning coal for energy.

Fast-forward to last month when the Trump administration’s Scott Pruitt indicated the EPA would reconsider the rule after being sued over it by Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a utility company industry group, and AES Puerto Rico, which operates a coal-fired power plant.

Those parties asserted the rule went too far in its regulation over inactive pits, where coal ash has been deposited but is not actively being added to, and active pits, those areas currently being filled with ash.

This past week, in oral argument at the D.C. Circuit, the parties underwent a grammar lesson, which concentrated on whether the EPA’s authority extended to inactive coal ash pits.

A focus on where the waste “is disposed of” was said to concern the present tense, or active coal pits. It was argued by petitioners that the EPA had “limited statutory authority” over inactive pits that had not seen new coal ash in some time. This argument essentially suggests the reach of the EPA regulation is only on the disposal activity and not on the lingering environmental risks that remain.

This discussion over the tense of the statute and how it affected the EPA’s authority took a majority of the hearing and its detailed nuances brings into focus the reach of environmental regulation in America.

The EPA expressed its desire to address the issues in the rule through its rulemaking process. One judge on the D.C. Circuit voiced her concern that “nothing would ever get decided” if that were the route taken, seemingly a nod to the current administration’s multiple efforts to prop up the waning coal industry.

It seems to me that when one is arguing the breadth or limits to a new rule, like the Coal Ash Rule, it’s most important to look to the enabling act and its intended reach. In this case, the enabling act is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which typically creates the framework for hazardous and non-hazardous solid wastes.

The Coal Ash Rule was promulgated under sub-part D, similar to open dumping of wastes, operation of municipal and industrial waste sites, and location restrictions like flood plains and wetlands.

It may be nuanced to argue verb tense, but it seems to me a regulation is effective only if it accomplishes its intended purpose to protect the public over the course of the hazardous and non-hazardous materials’ life, not just the act of someone “dumping” it somewhere at one single point in time.

“Safe disposal,” in the eyes of the waste’s nearest neighbor (and their water well), probably should include how it lingers in that disposal location.

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 Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

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 20, 2017.

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

The Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

Last week I considered how the House tax proposal would impact the energy industry. With the release of the Senate’s proposal, we now wait to see how Congress will merge these two versions. The current schedule has them submitting a bill to the president before year-end.

As a refresher, the House plan severely injured renewables, hitting wind the hardest, with its early sunset of vital tax credits including both the investment tax credit and production tax credit. Not the Senate bill, though – it leaves those in place. It also leaves the marginal well credit in place, a fact that many Oklahomans will appreciate.

One positive feature of the Senate’s version is its silence on the electric vehicle credit. The House bill removed a $7,500 incentive for EV car buyers.

The incentive was achieved via a bipartisan effort aimed at bringing parity between electric and combustion engine vehicles. Since the incentive was put in place, every major car manufacturer has unveiled plans to increase its electric vehicle production. Some companies, like Volvo, pledged to make all of their vehicles electric (hybrid or plug-in) or “electrified” (a non-plug-in electric version) beginning in 2019.

The EV component is really important to the renewable energy story, as it will no doubt be a catalyst for those who are reluctant to embrace other types of green living such as installing solar panels on their roofs or a geothermal system underground.

Other key differences between the bills are that the Senate’s version also cuts the corporate tax to 20 percent, but not until 2019, where the House’s cut would go in to effect after Dec. 31. Unlike the House’s proposal, the Senate version does not eliminate any brackets, but does lower rates more than its House counterpart.

The Senate bill treats small business pass-through entities differently – more favorably – than the House bill. There are a vast number of oil and gas related pass-through small businesses in Oklahoma that would stand to benefit.

While the Senate version is far more courteous to the energy sector than its House counterpart, there are still many things left to contemplate. For one, two major promises by congressional Republicans have been the repeal of Obamacare and tax reform.

The Senate bill attempts the old two birds, one stone idiom with its repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. This relates to the energy industry as so many oil and gas companies and affiliates are small businesses, which often means many of their employees are independent contractors. Obviously this repeal would lower tax rates for all Americans, but its wide-reaching effects on the state of health care in our country remains to be seen. It is estimated that remaining insured Americans would see an increase of 10 percent in their premiums, which might actually exceed the tax break savings the bill otherwise proposes for middle-income Americans. 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.