Scenic rivers in eastern Oklahoma have an advocate in Ed Fite.
He has been the administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission for more than 20 years and has devoted his life to protecting those streams.
But as a state official who works closely with other agencies that regulate water quality in Oklahoma streams, he should not be on the board of any of those other agencies.
Recently, Gov. Brad Henry nominated Fite to the board of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and at a Senate committee hearing last week considering Fite's appointment, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, through a senator, questioned Fite's eligibility. A vote on Fite's appointment was delayed.
No doubt, the bureau's objection to Fite were motivated simply by self-interest.
The organization, which is an advocacy group for farmers and ranchers, wouldn't want Fite on the Water Resources Board. Fite, long ago, championed a phosphorus limit for the scenic rivers that was proposed and approved by the resources board. The Farm Bureau was one of the most vocal opponents of the limit, claiming new water quality regulations would economically burden farmers, ranchers and especially poultry producers.
State Attorney General Drew Edmondson has said he believes Fite should be able to direct the rivers commission as well as sit on the board of the state Water Resources Board.
Perhaps no law restricts Fite's board participation, but in this instance, the Farm Bureau is correct, if not in motive, then in principle.
The Water Resources Board does not fund Fite's salary, but the board has conducted studies and testing on the Illinois River. The board regulates water quality in the scenic rivers and works closely with Fite in proposing not only regulations, but management practices for landowners and those involved in agriculture.
Fite, if not for his job with the commission, would be a good board member for the Water Resources Board. But given his OSRC position and OWRB relationship, he should not be a candidate.
The Farm Bureau certainly wants someone less "environmentally" minded, and that's the organization's prerogative. But the governor should nominate someone with as much devotion for clean water and honesty as Fite, but without the official entanglements.