Buffalo River 
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BRENDA BLAGG: Constant vigilance

27 Mar 2019 9:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

BRENDA BLAGG: Constant vigilanceBill to change farm regulation earns oppositionby Brenda Blagg | Today at 1:00 a.m.


State lawmakers are getting an earful these days on legislation that would change how hog farms are permitted in this state.


They should be.


Credit the long-running travails of a controversial hog farm near the treasured Buffalo National River for much of the sensitivity to the issue.

Litigation over the huge concentrated animal feeding operation there continues to this day.


The long-fought battle galvanized environmentalists and others caught up in protecting the Buffalo and other water resources.

In fact, a lot of lessons were hard learned by the public and by the regulators and by a governor or two.


So groups like the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance were at the ready this year when this new legislation, promoted by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, fell in the legislative hopper. They've weighed in on this new battle, pummeling lawmakers and others with communication. So have other environmental groups, utilities and more.


At issue is Senate Bill 550 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which would change the state agency responsible for permitting farms that have liquid animal manure systems -- such as that controversial hog farm near the Buffalo River.


Instead of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, SB 550 would shift that responsibility to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.


The bill easily passed the Senate recently, but has encountered more resistance in the House, where a House committee was scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday.


Exactly what the bill would and would not do is part of the continuing debate. So is the bill's impact on requirements for notification and issues regarding public disclosure of related records.


As late as Monday, sponsors were trying to amend the bill to ease concerns, but opposition continues to build.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday called for sponsors to pull the bill. The governor cited the recent engagement of a federal agency in the debate.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday alerted the state Department of Environmental Quality that this proposed state legislation is under review.


The concern is that there could be implications for the federal Clean Water Act, which the state is currently delegated to enforce.


Hutchinson said Monday he doesn't want the EPA taking over any programs that the state currently runs.


He also cited ongoing efforts to realign state agencies and said, "Right in the middle of a transformation is not the time to be making dramatic rule chances for large-scale animal feeding operations."


Not for nothing, the governor also noted he had received more than 200 communications opposing the bill.


Besides the conservation groups, opposition has come from utilities, such as the Beaver Water District and Central Arkansas Water, and former state environmental regulators.


Meanwhile, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, the House sponsor of the legislation, offered up another amendment to make provisions of SB 550 "null and void," should the federal regulators disapprove of it.


That fix won't satisfy clean water concerns or stop opposition to the legislation.


All of this suggests the bill may be killed, but keep in mind that the people who want it passed have some of the most effective lobbyists working to move the bill through the Legislature.


A week after the bill was filed, it had not only cleared a Senate committee but was passed by the full Senate on a 25-5 vote.


Little more than a week later, the bill is slated as a special order of business in the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development.


Maybe it will get out of committee this week. Maybe not.

Anyone concerned about this particular legislation should be wary, however. This is precisely the kind of legislation that could linger on a calendar and get passed in the last frantic days of the session.


This fight won't be over until the Legislature adjourns.


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