A native Oklahoman and certified public accountant, Brooks Mitchell operated his own practice for 15 years. He then spent 9 years of distinguished service with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as Director of Administration, Director of the Petroleum Storage Tank Division and as an administrative aide to former Commissioner Jeff Cloud. Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Caroline, have been married 19 years with two children; Charlotte and Laura. Mitchell is running to replace Bob Anthony, the only state official “grandfathered in” under Oklahoma’s “term limit” laws.
Question: Why would you run for Corporation Commissioner?
Mitchell: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is a diverse agency and during my years on staff I gained an appreciation of what a demanding job it is to serve as a Commissioner. It takes a great deal of energy and focus. Over the last few years, Bob Anthony has not shown the energy for the tasks required and attention to detail the job truly requires. He has served for 24 years and that is a long time.
Question: What are your priorities should you become an Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner?
Mitchell: There are three things of primary concern. First, modernize the agency. A new case filing system is desperately needed. Most of the other court systems in Oklahoma have gone to electronic filing, but the Corporation Commission which is a judicial agency needs to have the same capability. Some information is available online, but critical functionality is missing agency wide.
Second: The Ports of Entry project now underway needs to be completed immediately. This is the weight station program which protects Oklahoma highways and travelers from over-weight, unsafe and illegal vehicles.
Third: In the coming years, Governor Fallin and the Legislature will continue to restructure and consolidate different agencies in order to make our state government more efficient. The Corporation Commission will play a major role in that reorganization. As Commissioner, I will be deeply involved and able to assist the Governor and Legislature in making the reorganization as smooth as possible.
Question: A regional official with the EPA recently said the approach of the Federal Government to the Oil and Gas industry is similar to the Romans: Crucifying the first few you meet then the others follow along. Many Oklahomans are worried by that approach and wonder if the Corporation Commission will stand in the gap to defend Oklahoma Corporations from excessive if not crucifying regulations?
Mitchell: It is critical now more than ever to have strong voices at the state level. Oklahoma’s regulatory program on oil and gas is the best in the nation. It can and should be used as a model for other states that may have historically been active in oil and gas, but not so much in the last 50 years such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Our program is business friendly and attracts new business, but stands-up to the scrutiny of the EPA.
Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial topic at the moment and the EPA likes to put out propaganda on how terrible it is with dangers, they say, to drinking water. However, no danger from the practice has been proven and Oklahoma has been regulating the practice for 70 years or so with no instances of contamination in drinking water. I think it is important for Corporation Commissioners to stand up to the EPA and demand proof such danger exists.
Question: What national communication efforts does the Commission conduct to educate and stand for good practices?
Mitchell: For the last few years, the Corporation Commission has sponsored an annual oil and gas conference, but we have not aggressively invited people from other states – maybe we should consider expanding the event. Our Oil and Gas Division Manager participates on the Stronger Committee – a national effort to review and improve regulatory programs of the all the states.
If the EPA contacts an Oklahoma business, they should let the Commission know. We can review individual situations and if the business is in compliance with State Law then we can step in and make that case. Again, I think our regulatory programs are very balanced, attractive to business and yet stand well to any scrutiny. The Corporation Commission is a balancing act with the needs of; consumers, business and the environment. It is a matter of continually balancing. As Corporation Commissioner, I will be a strong voice for the State of Oklahoma.
My record at the Corporation Commission as a staff person was one of resolving conflict. It is always best if the communication occurs on the front end and that creates a better chance of resolving issues in a more time efficient and less costly manner.
Sometimes agencies do not interpret their own rules as well as they should and the Corporation Commission can help. We want commerce in Oklahoma. We want jobs here. We don’t want businesses closed down because someone thinks that might be a good idea.
Question: How goes the development of wind energy in Oklahoma?
Mitchell: There have been millions invested in wind, but it is still an emerging industry. There have been recent improvements in transmission upgrades so now we can move that power to places we have not before been able to reach. It is also dependent on the season so it is but one of the mix of power required for Oklahoma.
Question: What are the three top things people of Oklahoma should know about the Corporation Commission?
Mitchell: The Commission is a very diverse agency and it is the top regulatory agency in the State of Oklahoma in that most of our economy is touched by the agency: oil and gas, public utilities, retail gas, trucking, and some underground pipelines. Thus it is important that the commissioners work together and are responsive to the needs of business and consumers. The commissioners should strive to make the agency the most efficient in the state because of its importance to the state economy.
Question: How is your campaign for office going?
Mitchell: Very well. I have logged over 16,000 miles since mid-January crisscrossing the state many times. I have been well received everywhere. Many people I talk with are strongly supportive because my opponent has been in office over twenty-four years.
In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved term limits for all statewide elected offices – previously, limits just applied to the governor. Because he was already in office, Bob Anthony was “grandfathered in" to that so he could serve two more terms for a total of six terms whereas the rest of us can only serve two terms. Having been at the Corporation Commission and observed the role of the commissioners, how tough the job is and the amount of energy and attention it takes – I think twelve years is plenty of time to serve as Corporation Commissioner.