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  • 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

  • 26 Mar 2019 7:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansasonline



    Arkansas governor calls for postponing hog-farm bill

    Federal agency is looking at measure, Hutchinson says


    by Emily Walkenhorst 


    Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that he hopes state lawmakers don't proceed with a bill that would change how concentrated animal feeding operations, namely hog farms, would be permitted.


    Given that he expects a state agency realignment soon and a recent letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notifying the state of a review of the bill, Hutchinson said he wants lawmakers to "postpone" their efforts.


    "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.

    The governor's comments came on the same afternoon that the bill's sponsor in the Arkansas House, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, filed another amendment to the legislation. Bentley's amendment would make its provisions, if adopted into state law, null and void in the event federal regulators disapprove of it. The amendment also seeks to maintain existing permitting regulations.


    The amendment will run Wednesday morning before the bill is considered. That will be at 10 a.m. in the House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee meeting.


    "I wish the governor had waited just a little bit longer," said Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, the bill's Senate sponsor.


    Stubblefield said the bill is designed to make it so hog farmers only have to go to one agency when they seek a permit. He also said the response to his bill has blown it out of proportion.


    Senate Bill 550 seeks to change the agency ultimately responsible for issuing permits to farms that have liquid animal manure systems -- typically hog farms -- from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.


    The commission would decide whether to permit farms' liquid waste management systems and would issue permits approved by local conservation districts for liquid waste disposal. The commission also could overturn the disapproval of a disposal permit or a disapproval of part of one.


    Currently, the commission reviews liquid waste disposal plans, formally called "nutrient management plans," and determines whether they meet the commission's standards. The plans are then submitted as part of farms' operating permit applications to the Department of Environmental Quality.


    Stubblefield and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which pushed for the legislation, say almost nothing else would change as a result of the bill. Opponents argue that what Stubblefield and the Farm Bureau say the bill does isn't actually written into the bill, which makes those assurances less encouraging.


    Stubblefield said Monday that he would support an amendment to his bill that specifically kept current regulations regarding liquid animal manure systems and moved them over to the Natural Resources Commission. He said he has never filed such an amendment because he didn't think it was necessary.


    Bentley filed an amendment later in the afternoon that states regulations must "at a minimum, maintain the current standards and requirements of Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Regulation No. 5 Liquid Animal Waste Systems."


    The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission is the Department of Environmental Quality's regulatory and appellate body. The department follows regulations adopted by the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.


    Stubblefield and the Farm Bureau said they would want the regulations to remain intact, and Natural Resources Commission Executive Director Bruce Holland said his agency would recommend adopting the same regulations. That would need to be approved by the commission's board, lawmakers and Hutchinson.


    Bentley said Monday evening she wanted to look over the amendment further before commenting on it but said she and others have tried to look into everyone's concerns regarding the bill.


    Bentley's amendment also includes language addressing a letter sent last week from the EPA to state environmental regulators that said the federal agency was reviewing the law to make sure it complies with Clean Water Act requirements. EPA Region 6 Administrator Anne Idsal wrote to Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh that the bill "merits further evaluation to determine its effect" on federal rules and enforcement.


    Hutchinson cited the EPA revoking the state's permitting authority in 2013 as an example of the state previously clashing with the agency. The agency reinstated the state's permitting authority after lawmakers overturned Act 954 of 2013, which changed how water flows were calculated.


    "I'd also add that this is not the administration of President Obama. This is the administration of President Trump," Hutchinson said. "President Trump's EPA is who sent that letter, so I think the prudent course is let's keep it as it is."


    Bentley's amendment reads: "If Region 6 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency determines that the final rules promulgated by the commission to implement this act either supersede or otherwise adversely impact the delegated authority of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to administer the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit program ... the rules and this act, after all legal remedies have been unsuccessful by the Attorney General, will be considered void, and the authority to administer "no discharge permits" associated with the generation, storage, handling, and land application of liquid animal litter will revert back to the department."


    Conservation groups also are concerned about any impact the bill might have on public transparency and have cited differences in how the commission is set up versus how the department is set up, as well as a law that appears to exempt from public disclosure certain records at the commission but not at the department.


    Many have argued the bill would allow applicants to waive the "notification period requirements" surrounding their permit applications, which they said could mean applicants can waive the public notification period.


    Representatives with the Arkansas Farm Bureau said "notification period requirements" refers to the requirements that regulators issue permitting decisions within a certain time frame. Current law says applicants can waive the "timeliness requirement," but that language was stripped and replaced with "notification period requirements," Farm Bureau officials say, because the Bureau of Legislative Research recommended it.


    Those statements have not stopped conservation groups concerned that "notification period requirements" could be interpreted in a different way, stripping public notice from the permitting process.


    Bentley's amendment, which must be approved by the House committee, would change the language back to "timeliness."


    Hutchinson said Monday that he had received more than 200 communications opposing the bill. He said he hadn't been approached by anyone who had expressed concerns for public transparency.


    But opponents of the bill say that a current state law, Arkansas Code Annotated 15-20-1006, may mean that if the legislation is adopted into state law, farms' nutrient management plans may no longer be available to public inspection.


    The law states: "Any records collected by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission in furtherance of this subchapter that contain information about a specific nutrient management plan or specific nutrient application shall not be made public record."


    Hutchinson said he would have to look over that carefully but that such a law "perhaps" reaffirms his opposition to Senate Bill 550.


    The law is not included in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act state code, which outlines the records that are exempt from public inspection. The act states in its definition of "public records" that "all records maintained in public office or by public employees within the scope of their employment shall be presumed to be public records." The law then lists 23 exemptions, which must be changed by legislation.


    The law removing nutrient management plan information was passed in 2003, as Act 1059, to amend state natural resources and economic development statutes. The subchapter amended concerns the certification of people who review nutrient management plans.


    One conservation group contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said the law has been used to deny public records requests for information in nutrient management plans, and forwarded a copy of a public records request rejection by the commission in 2013 for information related to C&H Hog Farms.


    Stubblefield said Monday that he thinks nutrient management plans should be available for public inspection at the commission if they are available at the department.


    "I think this ought to be available to the public, no question," Stubblefield said. "That's only right."


    Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance founded in opposition to C&H's operation within the river's watershed, said he thought that perhaps applications for nutrient management plan certification may be available under the law, but approved ones would not be.


    Richard Mays, an environmental attorney who has represented the alliance, said the law's existence provides an argument against the plans' release.


    Mays said the 2003 bill likely didn't attract much attention at the time and that exempting records from public disclosure by passing laws outside of the Freedom of Information Act statute was a "sneaky way to do it."

    "It just shows you how some people who draft these statutes who pass them are not concerned about the public's right to know what is going on," Mays said.


    Since the bill's filing, conservation groups, utilities and former state environmental regulators have issued statements opposing the bill.

    On Friday, nine former Pollution Control and Ecology Commission members released a statement, citing the potential for unintended consequences, among other concerns.


    The Beaver Water District and Central Arkansas Water have expressed concern for the potential for weaker regulations to expose drinking water sources to excess algae-causing phosphorus.


    A spokesman for Entergy Arkansas said Monday in an email that the utility also opposes the bill. As written, the email said, the bill "proposes to alter the permitting and regulation of hog farms in a way that appears inconsistent with the provisions of the federal Clean Water Act and will potentially result in the EPA taking control of Clean Water Act regulations that are currently handled locally by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality."


    The utility has several wastewater permits issued by the department through its state-delegated authority from the EPA.


    Other concerns raised about the bill include a less accessible complaint process before the commission; a lack of a third-party rule-making process at the commission; a history of pollution related to excess poultry waste in the Illinois River watershed; and fear that C&H Hog Farms could apply for another permit from the commission and remain open in spite of an order to close by the Department of Environmental Quality.


    Supporters of the bill have said C&H, which is located near the Buffalo National River, must continue its current permit application, which they say would remain under the department's purview until litigation regarding it is resolved.


    A Section on 03/26/2019

  • 25 Mar 2019 3:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansasonline


    Governor says lawmakers should pull bill that would change how Arkansas farms get permits

    by Emily Walkenhorst 

    Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he wants state lawmakers to pull a bill that would change how hog farms and other farms are permitted.

    In a meeting with reporters on Monday afternoon, Hutchinson cited concerns about the government transition process and a letter last week from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator Anne Idsal. She wrote that an initial review of Senate Bill 550 showed that it "merits further evaluation to determine its effect" on federal rules and enforcement.

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

    SB550, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would transfer "concentrated animal feeding operation" permitting authority from the state Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The commission would decide whether to permit farms' liquid waste management systems and would issue permits approved by local conservation districts for liquid waste disposal. The commission also could overturn the disapproval of a disposal permit or a disapproval of part of one.


    Currently, the commission reviews liquid waste disposal plans, formally called "nutrient management plans," and determines whether they meet the commission's standards. The plans are then submitted as part of farms' operating permit applications to the Department of Environmental Quality.

    Check back for updates and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

  • 25 Mar 2019 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times



    The clean water fight puts spotlight on agency not up to the task 

    Posted By Max Brantley on Mon, Mar 25, 2019 at 7:27 AM

    The Farm Bureau has assembled a mighty rural lobbying force to transfer regulation of liquid animal waste (pig manure particularly) from the Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which isn't always able to carry out its existing role in protecting natural resources.

    The issues aren't directly relevant, I grant. But those saying ANRC is the place to regulate pig crap would do well to read Arkansas Democrat-Gazette outdoors writer Bryan Hendrix's column Sunday about Game and Fish Commission members unhappy about flooding in the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area that threatens the timber there.

    ANRC is a sponsor of a water management project there. Expensive infrastructure has been built but a local water distribution district has never gotten off the ground. With no income from that district, the ANRC can't do anything.

    In Senate debate last week on SB 550, Sen. Keith Ingram highlighted one of many flaws in the takeover law — transparently intended to make life easier for factory hog farms. It is that the ANRC has no control over permitting. That will be up to local conservative districts. And if they aren't active protectors of natural resources, then what?

    The water bill fight centers on the Buffalo River because it's a popular symbol. But the shift holds harm for water sources all over the state, particularly Northwest Arkansas, where lobbyists are attempting to get the largely Republican delegation riled about peril for Beaver Lake and other water sources.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson has indicated his opposition to the move. He's been very successful in cutting taxes for rich people and increasing them for poor people. Can he overcome the Farm Bureau? The EPA has also sent signals that, eve in the era of Trump, this effort to make life easier for hog farmers might run afoul of the clean water act.

  • 25 Mar 2019 7:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Talk Business



    Gov. Hutchinson: Not ‘right time’ to transfer control of state’s animal waste program from ADEQ

    by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com)



    Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters on Monday (March 25) that he does not a support a controversial proposal approved by the Arkansas Senate last week that will transfer oversight of liquid animal waste from the state Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to the state Natural Resources Commission by 2021.

    During an hourlong pen-and-pad media availability at his State Capitol office, Hutchinson said his staff had over “200 contacts” opposing SB 550 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, that was approved last week by the Senate by a vote of 25-5 following lively debate on the chamber floor.

    “I do believe it is not the right time for it,” said Hutchinson, noting that he would prefer that the sponsor pull down the bill as his administration seeks to push through his 2,500-page transformation package that would create a new Department of Energy and Environment.

    “I know that the motivation behind the sponsors is that this will lead to some efficiencies,” said the governor. “But I look at it from the standpoint of that transformation is important and right in the middle of (legislation) is not the time for making dramatic changes in our rule-making process for large-scale animal feeding operations.”

    Later in the press conference, during a question-and-answer period with reporters, Hutchinson said part of his reasoning for requesting SB 550 be deferred was a letter sent to ADEQ Director Becky Keogh from the Anne Idsal, regional administrator at the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Dallas.

    In that letter, Idsal said if SB 550 were adopted into state law, the EPA would review the legislation to see if the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission would possess adequate authority to issue permits in compliance with the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

    “Based on our initial review, SB 550 merits further evaluation to determine its effect on (EPA’s) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program permitting and enforcement in (Arkansas) and to consider potential issues related to transferring authorities to another department in the state,” Idsal wrote in the March 20 communication to Keogh.

    Under EPA rules, states are required to keep the EPA informed of major program revisions to clean air and water rules, including transfers of state oversight from one state agency to another. If revisions are made, those plans must be submitted to EPA for approval along with other supporting documents, including a modified program description and a statement from the state attorney general.

    “Specifically, SB 550 may implicate federal requirements addressing discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations into waters of the U.S., including permitting and public notice requirements, as well as requirements for unpermitted operations,” said the EPA administrator.

    Hutchinson said after receiving that letter from the EPA, there was a concern in the administration that if the state’s animal waste program was removed from ADEQ, then the Trump administration would come in and take it over.

    “For a number of reasons, I would urge the legislature to postpone consideration of this,” said Hutchinson. “The EPA indicated that a change would raise questions and may jeopardize our independence and authority to regulate these large-scale animal feeding operations.”

    During the Senate debate on SB 550 on March 19, Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, told Stubblefield that Arkansas needs to protect its pristine rivers, streams and water sources through more stringent environmental rules, not weaker ones. “Let’s keep the state the Natural State,” said the Little Rock senator.

    Stubblefield told Talk Business & Politics last week that he had seen a copy of the EPA letter to state environmental officials but would not comment on if he plans to pull down his bill. SB 550 now sits in the House Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee with no scheduled date for a hearing.

    Stubblefield said after the Senate convened on Monday that he had talked with the governor concerning SB 550. He said he proposed amending the bill to include a provision that if the state Natural Resources Commission rules conflict with current ADEQ regulations, then his legislation would be “null and void.”

    Hutchinson also said he was further concerned by the fact that the EPA letter came under the watch of the Trump administration, which has repealed and loosened review of water and clean air regulations implemented by the previous administration.

    “This is not the administration of President (Barack) Obama. This is the administration of President (Donald) Trump,” he said. “President Trump’s EPA is the one that sent that letter.”


  • 23 Mar 2019 8:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MASTERSON ONLINE: Senate and Farm Bureau in lockstep

    by Mike Masterson | Today at 1:56 a.m.


    Wow! Did you see how most of our elected senators fell right into lockstep last week with former dairy farmer Senator Gary Stubblefield's terrible bill (aka the Superfluous Stubblefield Stinker) who is carrying water for the Arkansas Farm Bureau?


    Looks to me as if far too few complacent Arkansans have made their voices heard in Stubblefield and company's latest attempt to needlessly circumvent the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) in favor of handing regulatory oversight over hog factories to the woefully unprepared Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and local Soil Conservation Districts.


    And now federal environmental regulators rightfully are reviewing this truly onerous piece of lawmaking as it heads over to the House. Has anyone asked why the Farm Bureau and Stubblefield felt it the least bit necessary to develop and push such unjustifiable legislation? Let's all think real hard on that.


    Short of turning our obviously lobbyist-compliant state government completely over to the Farm Bureau, there's still time for you to contact your state representative where this contrived legislative end run around our existing laws was next headed as of last week, as well as reaching out to the governor's office. Survival of our popular and beloved National Buffalo River is up to you now, valued readers.

  • 22 Mar 2019 7:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Protect environment


    Everyone who breathes air and drinks water cares about Arkansas Senate Bill 550--which would transfer hog and other farm permitting authority from one state agency to another and allow people applying for manure waste system permits to waive public notification requirements--no matter what work you do or how you live. It affects the basics for survival in this world.


    As individuals, we should not consider giving up our health and well-being for money or power. If we don't, as a society, change our attitudes and expectations for our lives, we will never be happy. We will never conquer the things that bring us down. Say hello to more stress and resulting disease. They are the friends of misplaced priorities.


    Farmers, non-farmers, everybody: Protect our environment.


    KAY CARPENTER

    Little Rock

  • 22 Mar 2019 7:33 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Protect our resources


    Please stop Senate Bill 550.


    We must protect all water quality in Arkansas. Protecting the Buffalo and its watershed is important on so many levels. But this bill will put all Arkansas watersheds, rivers, lakes and streams in jeopardy.


    This bill, backed of course by the powerful shortsighted Farm Bureau of which we are members, is not in the best interests of Arkansas or the people who live here.


    Look to the other states that have had their water quality decimated by ill-advised policies on this very issue. They are shutting down the operations after the water has been compromised.


    Arkansas should lead the country in protecting natural resources, especially something as essential as water.


    CALVIN and ELLANORAH WILSON

    Bigelow

  • 21 Mar 2019 7:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Bill to change how Arkansas farms get permits draws EPA review


    Effect on federal rules, enforcement seen at issue in state-authority switch


    by Emily Walkenhorst | Today at 4:30 a.m.


    Federal environmental regulators are reviewing an Arkansas Senate bill that would change how hog farms and other farms are permitted, concerned that it might have implications for the Clean Water Act and the state's implementation of that act.


    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator Anne Idsal wrote a letter to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh, dated Wednesday, stating that an initial review of the bill showed that it "merits further evaluation to determine its effect" on federal rules and enforcement.


    Senate Bill 550, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would transfer "concentrated animal feeding operation" permitting authority from the state Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The commission would decide whether to permit farms' liquid waste management systems and would issue permits approved by local conservation districts for liquid waste disposal. The commission also could overturn the disapproval of a disposal permit or a disapproval of part of one.


    Currently, the commission reviews liquid waste disposal plans, formally called "nutrient management plans," and determines whether they meet the commission's standards. The plans are then submitted as part of farms' operating permit applications to the Department of Environmental Quality.


    Stubblefield and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which initiated the bill, said Wednesday that they did not believe the review would find that the bill would violate federal laws.

    "The proposed law only pertains to state regulations not federal law, therefore EPA should say this is a state matter," Stubblefield wrote in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


    The department stood by its previously raised concerns.


    "ADEQ agrees with EPA that SB550 raises concerns regarding potential impacts to state programs and ADEQ's delegated authority to protect water quality," the department said in a statement to the newspaper. "The Arkansas program to protect water quality must remain at least as stringent as federal requirements and this bill does not provide adequate assurances that it will satisfy EPA requirements.”


    The EPA did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment Wednesday.


    Critics of the bill, which include environmental groups and water utilities, have expressed concern that environmental regulations and protections would be weakened under the bill, despite assurances from supporters that all regulations would remain intact. The bill does not state that current regulations must remain in place, but supporters have argued that that is implied.


    The bill is necessary, supporters say, because hog farmers must have their nutrient management plans approved by the commission and their operating permits approved by the department, meaning they must go through two agencies. One critic noted Tuesday that if the bill becomes law, the department may still be in charge of construction permits for farms that cover a certain amount of acreage.


    In the one-page EPA letter, Idsal wrote that the bill, if adopted, "would receive a review from EPA to determine whether the State program possesses adequate authority to issue permits that ensure compliance with the requirements of the Clean Water Act."

    Further, an initial review necessitates that the EPA consider the bill's "potential issues related to transferring authorities to another department in the State.


    "Specifically, SB550 may implicate federal requirements addressing discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) into waters of the US, including permitting and public notice requirements, as well as requirements for unpermitted operations.”


    The letter refers to the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program and the state's "delegated authority to protect water quality."


    Currently, only one farm has a permit under the state's implementation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program. That farm, C&H Hog Farms in Newton County, is operating under an expired permit but has applied for a state no-discharge permit and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to continue operating.


    All other hog farms are permitted under Regulation 5, which concerns no-discharge permits and implements the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act. Some dairy farms are permitted under Regulation 5. Poultry farms generally do not require permits but have their nutrient management plans reviewed and approved by conservation districts.


    John Bailey, environmental and regulatory affairs manager for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said Wednesday that the Farm Bureau would not support the bill if it also transferred National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to the commission.


    "I think it's clear to me in the letter that she hasn't seen Senate Bill 550," Bailey said.

    The bill doesn't specifically refer to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. It does mention the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act in one section that refers to noncompliant activities being subject to regulation under the law. Permitting is referred to in other sections.


    The letter refers to "public notice requirements," which can be waived by the applicant under the bill.


    Numerous critics of the bill have said that would keep the public in the dark about any farm applications.


    Bailey said Wednesday that applicants would be able to waive only the timeliness requirement, which says that regulators must make or notice decisions within a certain time period. That's how current law is written, but it states that applicants can waive the "timeliness requirement," while the proposed bill states that applicants can waive the "notification period requirements."


    Many have interpreted the new language to mean any notification period requirements can be waived, including the requirement to notify the public.


    When asked why the bill changes that language if it retains the same intent, Bailey said the Farm Bureau was told by the Bureau of Legislative Research that the new phrase was safer legally.


    The EPA routinely reviews state policies regarding federal programs, as well as permits and permit modifications classified as "major." The EPA must approve a state's ability to implement federal programs, such as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Otherwise, the EPA would control the program's operation in the state.


    In 2013, a previous Region 6 administration temporarily revoked Arkansas' ability to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits after a state law changed how the state calculates water flow affecting utilities and industries. Lawmakers later repealed Act 954 to regain permitting authority.


    Staff members explained to commissioners during the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission's meeting Wednesday that the agency would not take a position on the bill.


    "We are ready to accept that challenge if it's brought to us," commission Executive Director Bruce Holland told commissioners.


    Commissioners would adopt any pertinent regulations, if the bill became law. Holland said he would recommend that commissioners adopt the regulations as they exist at the Department of Environmental Quality.


    Bailey said the Farm Bureau would oppose efforts to adopt anything other than the current regulations.


    Other concerns raised about the bill include a less accessible complaint process before the commission; a lack of a third-party rule-making process at the commission; the potential for weaker regulations to expose drinking water sources to excess algae-causing phosphorus; a history of pollution related to excess poultry waste in the Illinois River watershed; and fear that C&H Hog Farms could apply for another permit from the commission and remain open in spite of an order to close by the Department of Environmental Quality.


    Supporters of the bill have said C&H must continue its current permit application, which they say would remain under the department's purview until litigation regarding it is resolved.

  • 21 Mar 2019 6:49 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times



    Governor expresses resistance to shift of pig waste regulation

    Posted By Max Brantley on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 3:23 PM


      Gov. Asa Hutchinson has weighed in with resistance to the Farm Bureau legislation to ease regulation of liquid animal waste from the likes of factory hog farms by shifting oversight from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to the farmer-friendly Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

      The move would end a strict state agency-controlled permitting process, end strict public notice requirements and otherwise provide a regulatory scheme far less burdensome to the manure producers.

      Hutchinson's statement is not surprising. It follows comments by his appointee as head of Natural Resources, former Republican Sen. Bruce Holland, who said if his agency did take over regulation he'd want it to adopt regulations mirroring those at ADEQ, a prospect the Farm Bureau does not find pleasing.

      He issued this statement, first reported on Twitter by KATV:

      "It is important that adequate protections remain in place so that we can continue our diligent work to protect the Buffalo National River. Historically, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has been the agency of record for this type of permitting, and they already have the necessary expertise in place to make a determination on a Regulation 5 application. I am confident in the current process at ADEQ, and I continue to have reservations with regard to SB550 and the transfer of Regulation 5 permitting authority from the ADEQ to the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission (ANRC). I will continue to monitor this legislation closely.”

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