ADEQ: CAFO Permit Is Just Fine
Agency: Permit is fine
In his recent letter to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks, Little Rock attorney Hank Bates claimed the nutrient management plan for C&H Hog Farms of Mount Judea revealed the crucial document contained “omissions, errors and misrepresentations” that warranted revocation of the farm’s operating permit.
I’d say Marks’ response (which declined to revoke the permit) contained a surprising number of its own “omissions, errors and misrepresentations.” Bates says Marks didn’t adequately address the specific issues he’d raised, specifically about phosphorus contamination from mountains of hog waste and previous flooding of some application fields.
Their exchange in the resulting news account by reporter Ryan Mc-Geeney was too lengthy to tackle in fewer than 1,000 words.
Bates summarized the response as nonresponsive. “For the most part, their letter doesn’t say anything, refutes nothing, ignores many of the issues we raised, and obliquely references others. For example, despite the regulations and prior public statements, it appears ADEQ really doesn’t care whether the permit applicant uses phosphorus or nitrogen in the analysis. ADEQ also misses the fundamental pointundefinedthe four fields with ‘N/A’ spread across the calculation tables are the fields where the analysis improperly switched from phosphorus to nitrogen.”
He added that the agency’s response “inspires little to no confidence that the agency will be enforcing the permit and protecting the Buffalo River as this factory farm ramps up operations … ADEQ feels it has no requirement to follow any guideline and is asserting their own guidelines and Arkansas law means nothing.”
I can understand Bates’ frustrations, especially considering that Marks has acknowledged she didn’t realize her own department had approved the operating permit for this farm until after it had been done by lower-level staff.
After reading of Marks’ response and refusal to revoke the permit, I was left with several impressions: It seemed from the wording and admitted errors contained in the permitting process, this was perhaps the first time they’d carefully reviewed that document. Secondly, there appears to be an inexplicable disconnect in the agency differentiating between phosphorus and nitrogen applications. Why?
Thirdly, my impression of Marks’ response could be boiled down to: We don’t give a thin slice of crispy bacon what the thousands concerned about potentially polluting the Buffalo National River say about how we handled or mishandled the hog contained animal feeding operation permit. Our responsibility is a done deal where we are concerned. All you taxpaying, voting citizens can learn to live with the conscientious job we are doing to protect the environmental quality of the natural state.
Were I Marks, after so many exposed shortcomings within her department, I’d already have resigned and probably found a job in the legal department of corporate agriculture. But, hey, that’s just me.
Many can’t believe this could even happen, and with the permission of our state. A family hog farm with a few hundred swine is one thing. But 2,500 sows and 4,000 offspring is like comparing a lizard to a brontosaurus with an entirely new level of potentially devastating risks to a magnificent state treasure.
So my curiosity naturally was roused by both the state and federal governments’ roles in approving this monumentally bad idea without a single public hearing held in Jasper, the Newton County seat, or nearby Harrison (where the Farm Service Agency and National Park Service offices share the same building). Why not? After all, this farm was being proposed in the backyard of those most immediately affected.
Now, instead of emerging from such meetings when the farm was proposed, public debate is occurring weeks after the first hogs from supporter Cargill Inc. arrived. The relative silence from the system certainly worked out to more than effectively paving the way for this particular farm.
As a consequence, our state’s permit approval, and even a loan guaranteed by taxpayers through the Farm Service Agency, has understandably roused thousands in Arkansas and across the nation.
I was born in Harrison, several miles from the Buffalo National River. I grew up enjoying its striking beauty. And as much as my concern is that this magnificent gift not be put needlessly at risk for contamination from leaking or overflowing hog waste, I’ve become equally interested in how our governments came to award such kindly approval to this farm seemingly from its conception.
It has felt as if state and federal agencies, rather than serving as true gatekeepers of our state’s precious treasure, turned cartwheels to make sure this CAFO was approved right where it is.
And I naturally wonder why Cargill, the international food supplier and processor, would risk good will and reputation over what’s bound to be just another of its many hog CAFOs. Aren’t there plenty of other better-suited areas even in Arkansas where this many hogs can be raised without raising fears over the God-awful hog waste contaminations that other states have suffered?
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.