Back in November, many applauded the decision of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to deny the permit which allows the C&H Hog Farm to operate in Mt Judea. The site is just a few miles upstream of the Buffalo National River. The denial of the permit means that the farm should cease operations within 30 days. But not so fast. Everything is back in court, a couple courts actually.
First the briefest of backgrounds. The farm was permitted in 2012 to hold 6,500 hogs and spread annually their feces and urine on a few hundred acres of hay fields adjacent to Big Creek. It drains downstream about six miles to its confluence with the Buffalo National River where every year several million people canoe swim, fish, hike, camp and generally recreate. And there is the problem, can these activities coexist? Yes, we need places to recreate and places to raise hogs, but can’t we figure out how to do these things in separate places? My guess it is a lot easier to move a hog farm than move the nation’s first national river.
The original permit allowing the farm to operate had certain flaws so when it expired the farm had to request a new permit. On Jan 10, 2018, the ADEQ offered up a draft denial of C&H hog farm’s request for a Regulation 5 permit to operate; however, they allowed the farm to operate before a final ruling following a public comment period. On November 19, they formally denied the permit.
C&H then went to a local district judge in Jasper and got a ruling to stay the denial and allow the farm to operate while on appeal. Subsequently, the Judge denied the ADEQ and intervenors to dismiss the stay so the farm will continue to operate while battles continue in the courts. Time will tell if ultimately the ADEQ decision to deny the permit will prevail. We should trust the judgment of the scientists and engineers at ADEQ and its oversight body, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission which oversees the actions of the ADEQ.
Now enters another player, stage right. Biennial law making starts up next January. Our ledge is quick to take on anything in their purview and they are the lawmakers and budget determiners so just about anything is game. Recall they got into a fight and threatened the budget of the supreme court for a ruling they didn’t like about a ballot issue.
Rumor has it that certain powers are preparing legislation to weaken the requirements for siting Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs.) Legislative mischief in this case could do considerable damage to our natural environment in an effort to keep the farm in business. Other legislation could weaken air and water quality standards which would impact everywhere in the state. Or they may strengthen the “right to farm” legislation so farms could not be regulated to protect the natural environment. Hold on to your hats, or canoes, or hiking boots. The environment of the Natural State may be in for a rough ride.
Agriculture and tourism are the two biggest industries in the state. We all need to work to ensure that both prosper and that neither gets in the way of the other.
Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University