Buffalo River 

NWA EDITORIAL: Protect the Buffalo While you’re at it, do it for entire state

27 Mar 2019 9:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

NWA EDITORIAL: Protect the BuffaloWhile you’re at it, do it for entire state

by NWA Democrat-Gazette | Today at 1:00 a.m.

Virtually every perspective on the biggest issues known to humans has been boiled down to a few words and printed on bumper stickers.

What will we do when self-driving cars leave most of us without our own bumpers on which to broadcast our pithy thoughts to the rest of the traveling public?

For the moment, though, the world has plenty of bumpers/mini-billboards, and across the country is a mobile fleet of vehicles united only in their auto-borne messages of appreciation for the American farmer.

"Eat today?" one of them asks. "Thank a farmer."

"Farmers are outstanding in their field," another says.

"No farm. No food," says one prediction of dire consequences from a future none of us would want to witness.

Arkansans from every walk of life can appreciate earnest recognition of the value of farmers. Agriculture in all its forms -- from row crops to animal husbandry -- represents a multi-billion dollar part of the state's economy every year. When farming is affected, the entire state of Arkansas is affected.

Then again, another bumper sticker offers wisdom also worth heeding: "Whatever happens to the water happens to the people."

Just as every Arkansan is touched in some way by the state's strong connection to agriculture, the state's residents are also impacted by the quality of water in the form of lakes, creeks, streams and rivers. We drink from them. We swim in them. We invite people from elsewhere to come experience them. We rely on water to support varied ecological systems across a diverse state.

Our lives and our livelihoods are deeply connected to farming and to the state's precious bodies of water.

This is why the debate over Senate Bill 550 in the Arkansas General Assembly is so important. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, would dramatically change the state's approach to evaluating and permitting concentrated animal feeding operations, such as hog farms,

Bentley's bill -- more specifically, a bill advanced by the powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau -- if passed will move the permitting process from the state's Department of Environmental Quality and hand it entirely to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The Senate has approved the bill, which is now in the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development and scheduled for consideration today at last word.

That committee is chaired by Rep. Dan Douglas of Bentonville. Its membership also includes Northwest Arkansas lawmaker Harlan Breaux of Holiday Island, in case any residents want to voice a perspective on this legislation.

Our opinion is, in basic form, the same as Gov. Asa Hutchinson's. On Monday, Hutchinson said he hopes state lawmakers do not proceed with the bill, largely because it has drawn the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It's important to note that the EPA, a federal agency, authorizes state environmental regulators to administer a lot of the federal regulations designed to protect water, air and soil. The state agency is, to a great degree, the eyes and ears of the federal agency and is responsible for applying and enforcing federal rules.

Senate Bill 550 has apparently made the EPA a little concerned. It notified the state that it's reviewing the bill to see if it complies with the Clean Water Act. If the federal agency determine the bill does not, it could reclaim its authority to enforce its own regulations in Arkansas.

Hutchinson called on lawmakers to "postpone" their efforts on the bill also because of his work to realign state agencies for efficiency.

"Right in the middle of a transformation is not the time to be making dramatic rule changes for large-scale animal feeding operations," he said.

We couldn't agree more. But the powerful farming forces push on, eager to move enforcement authority to the Natural Resources Commission.

Supporters are advancing a narrative that convenience -- allowing farmers to deal only with one agency -- is their driving force. They claim they're not really changing the rules. But anyone who doubts this plan is designed to make it easier to permit farms/agri operations that pollute should reconsider such notions.

This bill will affect the entire state, but is largely rooted in the years-long controversy over a hog farm operation near the Buffalo National River. It's a farm operation that, in our view, should never have been allowed so close to such a vital tourism resource. Farming advocates, it seems, want to ensure the concerns over the Buffalo River don't promote a more constrictive regulatory environment for farmers elsewhere in the state.

It's clear, so to speak, that the impacts of SB550 are murky at best, enough so that the EPA is made nervous by its provisions.

Here's what we'd put on our bumper sticker today: "Hutchinson is right. Do not pass SB550."

Commentary on 03/27/2019

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