Joe Wertz

StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Monday released an audit and other documents related to a corruption probe his office fought to keep secret.

The records stem from an investigation launched in 2011 of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, which was set up to buy contaminated properties and relocate residents near the Tar Creek Superfund site, a former lead and zinc mine in northeastern Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Updated 5:25 p.m.

Public schools from every corner of the state closed their doors today as teachers walked out of the classroom and marched at the Oklahoma capitol to protest years of cuts to education funding.

Last week, Governor Mary Fallin signed the first statewide tax increase in nearly 30 years to give teachers a roughly $6,100 raise. The nearly $450 million deal increased taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production in hopes of heading off the teacher walkout.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Senate is now considering a package of bills to increase tax revenue to give raises to teachers and public employees. Among the targeted increases are taxes on oil and gas.

On Tuesday, the energy industry showed up to the capitol to rally against the proposal.

Outside the capitol, oil-field workers arrived early in the morning to set up and stoke enormous trailer-pulled grills and smokers to feed the public and legislators, and remind them of the oil industry’s status as a top job-maker.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday ruled a proposed state question that would ask voters to approve tax hikes on oil and gas production to help fund education can move forward.

The proposed State Question 795 was written by a group called Restore Oklahoma Now, which is led by a former president of the OIPA. It would ask voters to end discounts on many wells and impose an across-the-board 7 percent tax on oil and gas production to fund teacher raises and early childhood education.

Oklahoma Corporation Commission

The widow of one of the five men killed in a natural gas rig explosion in January has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the well operator and drilling contractor.

In a lawsuit filed in Pittsburg County, Dianna Waldridge, the widow of 60-year-old Parker Waldridge of Crescent, accuses Red Mountain Energy and Patterson-UTI Energy and two of the companies' subsidiaries of negligence.

The rig was drilling near the town of Quinton, 100 miles south of Tulsa, when it caught fire and exploded on January 23.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Dewey County Courthouse is one of the newest in Oklahoma. The offices are spacious, and the courtroom has fresh carpet and shiny wood trim. County Commissioner M.W. “Junior” Salisbury is excited to play tour leader.

“I’m pretty proud of our little courthouse here,” he says. “I really, really am.”

Officials figured they would need 25 years to pay it off, but it took less than five. One major reason: wind farms.

OKLAHOMA CORPORATION COMMISSION

Oklahoma oil and gas regulators are expanding rules designed to reduce earthquake activity triggered by fracking. Updated guidelines released Tuesday by the Oklahoma Corporation put new requirements on companies operating in two of the state’s most booming oil fields.

 

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Environmental groups and concerned residents this week told federal officials the Oklahoma agency charged with protecting air, land and water lacked the resources and rules to manage a state-run plan to regulate coal ash.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Updated Tuesday at 8:37 a.m.

A bill to raise revenue for the Step Up Oklahoma plan failed to get enough votes to pass the House yesterday. The measure received only 63 of the 76 yes votes needed for passage.

During debate, House Speaker Charles McCall admitted the bill wasn’t perfect, but it would fix the issues with the budget.

"A $5,000 teacher pay raise, certainty with our health care, funding for our infrastructure ― these are clearly things that the people of the state of Oklahoma sent us to this chamber to take care of on their behalf."

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After getting concessions, a group of small independent oil and gas producers is now endorsing a suite of tax increases and government reforms written by a group of business leaders known as the Step Up Oklahoma plan.

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