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.