Monthly Archives: March 2019

A Bad Bill for Arkansas – SB550

The Arkansas Legislature is considering a bill this week that will radically change the way that agricultural wastes, essentially feces and urine from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are regulated. Although Senator Stubblefield (Republican Branch, Arkansas) said this bill is not about the CAFO near the Buffalo National River, it will certainly affect the farm.

This bill will take responsibility for permitting CAFOs from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and simultaneously eliminate the existing permitting system. Currently, to spread feces and urine on a field requires a Regulation 5 permit but this bill will abolish Regulation 5. Responsibility for controlling these noxious wastes will be passed to local soil conservation district boards and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC.)

The move will radically weaken the way swine factory farms are regulated in Arkansas and would remove current protections for the Buffalo National River. Hog factories would be allowed to operate in a much more permissive environment and increase the likelihood of liquid animal waste entering the Buffalo National River, as well as other streams and even the watersheds of drinking water impoundments. For this reason, two of the largest water systems in the state, The Beaver Lake Water District, and Central Arkansas Water have announced their opposition to the bill.

SB550 does not provide a clear permitting framework for liquid animal waste systems. Under this bill, the management plans for disposal of the waste feces and urine will be weakened. There is no
requirement for geotechnical review as currently required under ADEQ, and the local boards for overseeing the waste management doesn’t have this expertise. They can consult the ADEQ, but why not leave the authority there where the expertise does exist?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees Arkansas’ regulations as it pertains to the Clean Water Act. The weakening of regulatory review and oversight will invite EPA scrutiny which will place increased demand on state resources and will actually create inter-agency chaos within the state’s regulatory environment. The proponents of the bill suggest the rationale for the bill is efficiency, but the net result will be the opposite.

One of the most egregious components of the bill will be to reduce public notification, input, and access to information about a CAFO. The bill allows the operators of a proposed CAFO to waive public notice. Further, animal waste management plans under the ANRC are not open to public scrutiny. When and if these animal wastes are spread to land in excess of uptake as fertilizer, the waste becomes a pollutant which can wash into streams and water bodies, causing degradation of water quality. A section of the Buffalo Natural River nearest the Mt Judea Hog factory is already impaired. Senate Bill 550 will only make things worse and take away the right of the public to know.

The Governor’s position is unclear on the bill, but he has vowed to protect the Buffalo. Senator Davis, (Republican Russellville) voted for the Bill. SB550 now goes to the House Agriculture Committee. Stan Berry (Republican Dover) is a member of the House Ag committee.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Making Clean Air Costly

The Arkansas legislature is doing its best to look backward rather than forward. Just this year the transportation sector in the United States became the major source contributing to global warming and the changes to the climate it induces. At the same time, a clear majority of Americans including Arkansans believe global warming is real, is caused by humans, and is especially threatening to future generations.

Logic should suggest then that changes to our transportation systems here in Arkansas should take account of this risk and do the right thing. Modes of transportation which don’t contribute to global warming should be favored over those that do. Right?

The new law for funding for highways in Arkansas raises fuel taxes to help pay for construction and maintenance of our highway system. For gasoline, the state tax will go from 20.8 cents a gallon to 23.8 cents a gallon, a 3 cent per gallon rise. The diesel fuel tax will rise by 6 cents a gallon.

It will raise 100s of millions of dollars a year. Ironically it will also reduce highway use at least in principle – the more gas costs, the less gas is used. Less gasoline use means a lower contribution to global warming which is a good thing. Lower gasoline use also means cleaner air, less volatile organic carbon emitted, and less ozone formed. Also a good thing.

At the same time, the bill taxes electric vehicles that don’t contribute to global warming and negative health effects from tailpipe emissions. As they don’t use gasoline or diesel, the “tax” will be assessed via a greater registration fee: 200 dollar increase per pure electric vehicle, and 100 dollars per plug-in hybrid . On the surface, this seems fair as these electric cars use and therefore abuse the highways and need to pay their fair share. But is this taxation rate fair?

The average Arkansas vehicle travels about 15,000 miles per year. At an average mileage, this works out to a tax rate significantly lower than that assessed on electric vehicles. The tax assessment plan will literally punish efficiency. It will make the purchase of electric vehicles less attractive. In so doing, this will increase, not decrease damage due our shared climate. Does the legislature really want to make our children’s future more grim?

Quite simply gasoline and diesel powered vehicles contribute to global warming, electric vehicles don’t. As a society, we need to consider the climate with every decision we make, at least if we care about our children’s future. We need to promote clean energy systems at the expense of those systems and processes that contribute to global warming.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Migrations and Climate Change

As our climate changes at an ever-increasing rate, everything from bacteria to blue whales are on the move. Climate changes have come and gone over the ages but rarely at the rate we are inducing by our profligate production of Carbon Dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Both plants and animals alike have only two choices – migrate or die.

Species migrations are generally are to the north or upslope, in either case to cooler climes that existed before global warming. Some migrations have little impact on humans. The Arctic is a bellwether for climate change as it is occurring there more rapidly than elsewhere. Moose are moving north, for the mosses and larch which now have moved northward. Ironically polar bears are moving south. As the ice floes where they hunted seals diminish, they are forced on to land, moving south where they are now competing with grizzly bears.

The now extinct Golden Toad lived in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. As the climate warmed, it went upslope until it had no higher to go. A smallish mammal, the Bramble Cay Melomys is now extinct. It formerly inhabited an atoll near Papua New Guinea, but sea level rise has inundated the atoll and it had nowhere to go.

Of greater concern to humans are shifting populations of pests. Leishmaniasis is a deadly disease caused by a protozoan parasite. Infection occurs from the bite of an infected sand fly. The sand fly and hence the disease has previously only been seen in the tropics, but the sand fly is now seen in North Texas.

Plant pests that affect food crops are on the move. A moth is moving south(southern hemisphere) ravaging cruciferous crops in South Africa. Coffee plants in Central America are threatened by a fungus due to wetter weather. Wine grapes and olives are threatened in Europe.

Rapid climate change invariably means large scale species extinctions. The greatest rapid climate change is called the Permian Extinction. Around a quarter of a billion years ago, not all that long ago considering the nearly 5 billion year age of the planet, something happened that wiped out about 90 percent of life’s species. It has been suggested that an asteroid a couple of miles across stuck earth.

The debris from the impact, plus induced volcanism from the shock to the mantle would have flooded the skies with ash and poisoned the oceans with sulfuric and other acids. The skies would have drastically darkened and cooled the earth, killing most plant life. The subsequent release of Carbon Dioxide upon their decay would have then drastically warmed the planet. The climatic whipsaws resulted in the extinction of 96 percent of ocean life and over two-thirds of terrestrial life. Rapid climate change is a bad thing for biodiversity and biodiversity is the best measure of a healthy environment.

A physical catastrophe such as an asteroidal impact is out of our control, but we can and must get our impact on the climate under control. No amount of walls and fences will stop starving migrants suffering from climatic change.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.