Eureka Springs Independent
Environmental victory may have national implications
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Environmental groups who filed a federal lawsuit regarding the failure of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to do an adequate environmental study before approving government loan guarantees for a 6,500-head confined animal feeding operation in the Buffalo National River watershed have won a victory not just for the BNR, but possibly for areas affected by similar CAFOs across the country.
D. Price Marshall, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas, ruled Dec. 2 that federal agencies arbitrarily and capriciously guaranteed loans to the C&H Hog Farm near the BMR by failing to take a hard look at environmental impacts and not following proper procedures to protect threatened and endangered species.
“We are really excited about this decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang, one of the attorneys in the lawsuit that resulted in a ruling that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was violated when the SBA and the FSA failed to consider environmental impacts when approving taxpayer funded loan guarantees for the C&H facility. “If they are going to approve loan guarantees like this, they at least have to consider environmental impacts, involve the public and get comments before approving those dollars. That is a big step forward. They should have been doing this all along.”
Chang said if the ruling is not appealed, it would mean that nationwide those agencies will be called to meet certain standards they have not been applying to loan guarantees for CAFOs.
“It looks to us based on their arguments that the SBA didn’t think it was necessary to review environmental impacts,” Chang said. “The judge’s decision says, ‘Actually, you do.’ That should have an impact on similar scenarios around the country. I don’t know how many CAFO loans they are approving. But to the extent they are approving CAFO loans, they need to follow the law.”
Chang said the court saw the federal government agencies’ actions as a disdain and complete disregard for the laws that protect the environment. “We believe the court’s decision will help to set things straight in this debacle that has put more than $3.6 million in federal taxpayer dollars on the line to support a massive swine factory farm upstream of a treasured national resource.”
Who sued and why
The lawsuit was filed by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society and the National Park Conservation Association. Dane Schumacher, a member of the BRWA board, said the lawsuit was focused on the approval of federal taxpayer money for the purchase of 23 acres and the construction of gestation and farrowing barns for C & H Hog Farm and the gross inadequacies of the environmental assessment required as part of the loan process. These loans were approved without notifying the BNR National Park officials. Few people knew about the large new CAFO until after it was built.
Schumacher said it was a welcome surprise that the Arkansas lawsuit could have national implications for others facing similar CAFOs, which produce large amounts of foul smelling wastes that environmentalists contend can contaminate air and groundwater, and harm people’s health.
“This could affect the status quo for CAFOs across the country,” Schumacher said. “The judge’s ruling obviously concurred with what we stated in our claims. Now they have to go back to the beginning and look at any environmental consequences from this swine facility.”
Schumacher said the agencies would have to look at facts such as 9 spray fields located on karst terrain and near a tributary to the Buffalo River, Big Creek. These fields are receiving raw liquid wastes making surface to groundwater contamination a high risk. There are also spray fields located near the Mount Judea School that could impact school children and teachers, and an endangered species of gray bat lives near the facility.
“None of that was included in the environmental assessment,” Schumacher said. “One of the things the federal agencies should have done and didn’t do was provide notice of the proposed loan guarantees in the local paper. Hopefully, now they will open up a comment period, and the public can weigh in and express their opinion on the issue. It means they are going to have to go back and do what they should have done in the beginning.” She said the ruling makes it a very different picture from 2012 when the facility was quietly approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).