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.

Ways to Connect

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact racked up thousands of miles traveling across the state this year, filing more than 40 full-length radio features and hundreds of web posts on how government energy, environmental and economic policy affects ordinary Oklahomans. And many of those stories involve issues that are ongoing.

EPA Regulations

On of the first broadcast stories we filed this year was on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional haze rule, and how pollution from Texas coal plants dirties the skies above the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma. Volunteer firefighter and avid hiker Bill Cunningham took us to the top of Mount Scott to show us the pollution the rules are supposed to fight.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The State of Oklahoma has enough revenue to trigger an income tax cut, finance officials said Wednesday.

As StateImpact’s Joe Wertz reports, the amount of money available to fund state government is trending flat, but officials say lackluster revenues seem manageable.

About 1.7 million Oklahoma taxpayers pay the top income tax rate, which will drop a quarter point — from 5.25% to 5% — in 2016.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states have formed an ‘unprecedented, secretive alliance’ with the energy industry to fight federal environmental regulations, The New York Times Eric Lipton reports

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 2015 session is still months away, but the newly elected Oklahoma Legislature has already started talking about how to divvy up roughly $7 billion in state appropriations.

Some prominent lawmakers are promising to re-examine tax credits and economic incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of those incentives are used for wind energy, which the industry says are working.

Big Wind

Oklahoma is in the middle of a wind boom. In the last five years, installed wind power capacity has soared more than 200 percent. Last year, Oklahoma was the country’s fourth-largest producer of wind-powered electricity, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency show. But every energy boom comes with a cost.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Tuesday ended its four-month inquiry into wind energy development in Oklahoma. The examination could lead to new rules, though it’s not clear what they might be or which agency would enforce them.

The commission heard from vocal landowners for and against wind farms. Developers lauded the economic potential of Oklahoma’s wind, while conservationists and Indian tribes warned that, left unchecked, turbines would kill threatened bird species and ruin delicate grasslands.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Scientists, regulators and technical experts from the energy industry met in Oklahoma to discuss how earthquakes triggered by oil and gas operations should be accounted for on national seismic hazard maps, which are used by the construction and insurance industries and pubic safety planners.

The three-day workshop started Nov. 17 and was co-hosted by the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Crystal J. Hollis / Flickr

Driven by water worries, safety questions and quality of life concerns, residents in Oklahoma and states other the country have pushed for citywide bans on hydraulic fracturing.

Many of those efforts have proved successful, but, in the end, fracking bans might be more about lawyers than voters.

Using local referendums, residents in states like California, Colorado, New York and Ohio have successfully banned fracking. The anti-fracking fervor has even spread to Texas, the country’s No. 1 crude oil producer. On Election Day, voters in Denton approved a citywide ban on fracking.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s earthquake surge is unrelenting. The shaking is rattling residents and cracking the foundations of homes.

The quakes have also strained state agencies, which are struggling to keep up with the ongoing swarm while simultaneously developing a longer-term plan to analyze and address factors that might be triggering the earthquakes.


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s earthquake surge and possible links to oil and gas activity have been studied in scientific papers, discussed at heated town-hall meetings and explored regulatory hearings.

The quakes are now triggering some rumblings at the state Capitol.

About 4,000 earthquakes have shaken Oklahoma this year, data from the Oklahoma Geological Survey show. Most of the quakes have been small — roughly 10 percent were 3.0-magnitude or greater, the threshold at which seismologists say the temblors are likely perceivable.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In the ongoing debate about Oklahoma’s wind industry and whether it needs stricter regulation, two types of property owners have been the most vocal: those who hate the idea of turbines next door, and those eager to lease land to a wind company.

But there’s a voice that’s been largely absent from the discussion so far: Landowners who have wind farms and like them.

Family, Factory

For four generations, Monte Tucker’s family has been squeezing life out of the land. Dead tree stumps become renewable winter energy sources. And if you have an excited 3-year-old boy with a hatchet, like Tucker’s son Reid, the labor to harvest that energy comes with zero cost.

“For some reason, he’s just been obsessed with chopping firewood lately,” Tucker says as he watches his son drag a stump onto the gravel driveway of the family’s home.

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