A coalition of groups filed suit in federal court in Little Rock today to set aside $3.4 million in loan guarantees by the federal Farm Service Agency and Small Business Administration to C&H Hog Farms, a 6,500-pig feeding operation on a major tributary of the Buffalo National River near Mount Judea.
The lawsuit said the agencies had not issued the proper public notice and undertaken environmental assessments required by law. From a release:
“FSA and SBA failed to provide the public notice and undertake the environmental review and consultations required by law, so we’re asking the court to set aside the loan guarantees and instruct the agencies to comply,” said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We have asked FSA and SBA to do the right thing without litigation, but they have not, and today we find ourselves in court to protect the Buffalo River, a national treasure of immeasurable worth.”
The SBA did no environmental assessment. The Farm Service Agency review was deeply flawed, the lawsuit says. Particularly, it ignored the impact of the smell from manure on a nearby school and the potential for problems from manure draining through the porous karst geology of the area.
The National Park Service, which operates the popular national river, wasn’t notified of the farm until after it had been approved. It found 45 problems with the “woefully inadequate” environmental assessment.
“The rubber-stamping of the requested loan guarantees, the inadequate review of the environmental consequences, and the failure to notify the local community and to consult with sister agencies as required, makes a mockery of the law and puts a national treasure in harm’s way,” said Hannah Chang, attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice.
A local family is operating the farm under contract with Cargill, the food industry giant. The family has insisted it will be good stewards and values the region, too. The farm also got a permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. It is not a defendant in the suit, supported by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, The Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and Earthjustice.
Judge Price Marshall drew the case. A legal foonote: Marshall once clerked for federal Judge Richard Arnold, who, as a private lawyer, won landmark federal court rulings that required substantive reviews of federal agency decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act. Arnold participated in efforts to stop damming of the Cossatot and channelizing of the Cache River. A violation of NEPA is among the things alleged in this lawsuit.