PICHER, Okla. – The Oklahoma State Auditor is asking the court to order him to release an audit that was performed on the state’s largest Superfund site. However, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is fighting to keep the audit out of the public.
The Tar Creek Superfund site is one of the most polluted areas on the planet. The water in Tar Creek water runs red with poisonous lead. The chat piles, man-made mountains of toxic bedrock, loom. The land surface is at risk of collapsing into cavernous mine structures below.
It has been a decade since the federal government first declared the area uninhabitable. The towns of Picher and Cardin were both abandoned by their residents.
“It’s the largest Superfund site in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Scott Thompson told News 4 in October.
In 2011, then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt requested an audit into suspected unlawful contracting practices by the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Trust at the Superfund site. Pruitt later declined to file charges and ordered that the audit not be released.
In 2015, the auditor’s office asked Pruitt to authorize the release of the audit under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Pruitt denied the request stating, “Our office is concerned about publication of unsubstantiated criminal allegations against private citizens.” The auditor’s office disputed Pruitt’s rationale, stating that they were not aware of “any unsubstantiated claims” and that “the individuals named in the report are members of a public trust or a contractor whose services were retained as part of this substantive project.”
In November, the watchdog group 'Campaign for Accountability' made an Open Records request of the auditor’s office for the records. In response, the auditor explained that he wanted to release the records, but had been instructed not to do so by the AG’s office. The group then filed a request for the records directly with the AG’s office, which denied the request.
As a result, the group filed a lawsuit in order to obtain the audit.
Now, the Tulsa World reports that Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones is requesting that a court order him to release the 2011 audit concerning the Superfund site.
Jones argues that it is the public's right to know what is in the audit.
Acting Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says the case should be dismissed, saying his office is allowed to keep the documents confidential.