Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Plaintiffs urge block of loans to C&H farm
By Emily Walkenhorst
November 8, 2014
Parties in the lawsuit over federal loan guarantees made to a Newton County hog farm in 2012 filed their recommendations this week for how an injunction against those loans should be administered.
U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. asked the parties to submit their recommendations within 21 days of his October ruling that the environmental assessment done during the loan process was "defective."
Marshall wrote Oct. 16 that the assessment was "too brief" and had "no chain of reasoning."
The lawsuit, filed in August 2013, contends that Farm Service Agency workers ignored several federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, when they conducted the assessment and issued a "finding of no significant impact" for C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, urged the court this week to block the loans until the agencies are in compliance with the law, citing precedents in similar cases.
The attorneys also suggested deadlines for complying with federal law, including quarterly reports on the progress. They recommended a 12-month review process for the National Environmental Policy Act, preparation of an environmental impact statement, and a 30- to 90-day consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Endangered Species Act.
Attorneys for the defendants, which include several federal agencies, asked that the court not impose a deadline on the analyses and not specify how the agencies should conduct their reviews, such as requiring the impact statement.
"The interests of the public and of the environment are better served by allowing the Defendant Agencies to take the time needed to properly comply with both Acts, rather than creating a situation where the need to conduct a thorough analysis is overshadowed by the specter of failing to meet a judicially imposed deadline," the defendants' attorneys wrote.
New information could prompt additional analysis and public comment, delaying final decisions, the defendants' attorneys wrote. No evidence exists of an "appreciable risk of harm" to the plaintiff's interests during the time it will take for agencies to comply, they wrote.
Blocking the federal loan guarantees provides the plaintiffs with all the relief they sought in the injunction, the defendants' attorneys wrote.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that deadlines were allowable by law and cites similar cases in which timetables have been established for compliance.
They additionally argued that the court should require an environmental impact statement if the loan guarantees may significantly impact the environment, based on precedent.
C&H Hog Farms is a large-scale concentrated animal feeding operation. The farm, which is permitted to house approximately 2,000 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at a time, is the first facility in the state to receive a general permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality for the operation of a concentrated animal feeding operation and the management of liquid animal waste.
The farm and the various agencies responsible for granting its owners operational permits have drawn the ire of environmentalists who say the amount of animal waste generated at the facility could pose a threat to groundwater and the nearby Buffalo National River. The river is the nation's first national river and attracts more than 1 million visitors annually and generated more than $44 million in revenue in 2012, according to the National Park Service.
The lawsuit affects the loans the farm has received but does not directly challenge its operation.
Metro on 11/08/2014