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NWA EDITORIAL: A dramatic pause Panel surprises with hesitance to protect Buffalo - NWA Democrat-Gazette

03 Aug 2019 8:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


NWA EDITORIAL: A dramatic pausePanel surprises with hesitance to protect Buffaloby NWA Democrat-Gazette 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson took a strong lead in protecting the Buffalo National River when he worked out a deal that would shutter C&H Hog Farm, that large-scale operation near a tributary to the state's most important river.

OK, we'll grant you that the Arkansas River is pretty vital, what with all the commerce flowing from its waters. But in terms of tourism and environmental protection, it's hard to think of any waterway so important to who we are as Arkansans as the Buffalo.

What’s the point?

It’s astonishing the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission hesitated to begin a rule-making process to protect the Buffalo National River.

The hog farm should never have been authorized by the state. The governor stressed in announcing the state's $6.2 million buyout of the farm that its owners did everything expected of them in licensing their operation. The problem was the state simply didn't expect enough.

For most Arkansans, keeping large sources of potential pollutant-producing materials out of the Buffalo's watershed is a no-brainer. Then, apparently, there's the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

By it's title, one might think pollution control and ecology might be important factors to this state panel. It's a reasonable presumption. Not necessarily an accurate one, but a reasonable one.

We point to the commission's last meeting, at which members approved the beginning of a rule-making process to permanently ban hog farms of a federally classified large to medium size from the Buffalo River watershed. A temporary ban has been in effect since 2014.

The outcome belies the fragility of the commission's apparent commitment. When Commissioner Doug Melton made a motion to support the rule-making, it required the parliamentary second. Matters that aren't seconded die. And Melton's motion hung in the air for an extended period of silence.

Commissioner Mike Freeze instead made a motion, quickly seconded, to delay the proposal until the next meeting. It couldn't be considered, though, because Melton's motion took precedence.

It's flabbergasting this panel wouldn't eagerly embrace a measure to protect the Buffalo National River. It took a recess and considerable consultation before its members became satisfied enough that starting the rule-making process doesn't mean the rule is written in stone. In fact, it doesn't mean the rule is written at all. That's what the process is all about, and it's got to start somewhere.

We get it: Some people don't believe the hog farm polluted or threatened to pollute anything. Some people are worried agricultural operations, of which there are plenty in Arkansas, might be impacted more by politics than by science.

But state leaders of all stripes should recognize the Buffalo River is the state's gem of gems. Of all places, the state should not play games with possible ecological damage to the Buffalo.

Save the Buffalo, indeed.

Commentary on 08/03/2019

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