The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission today granted petitions to begin the rulemaking process to prohibit new controlled animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the Buffalo National River Watershed. The petitions were brought by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Ozark Society, and would prohibit the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality from issuing new permits to swine operations in the watershed with 750 or more swine weighing 55 pounds or more, or 3,000 or more swine weighing less than 55 pounds.
The proposed rules would only impact permitting for new operations, not C&H Hog Farm, the 6,500-hog facility near Big Creek, one of the largest tributaries of the Buffalo National River. The Ozark Society is part of a coalition of groups that have raised concerns about environmental risks to the watershed and the impact on the surrounding community and is suing the federal agencies that approved C&H’s loan application over what they allege was an inadequate environmental assessment.
“We had two objectives,” said Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society. “One was to do something about C&H, to get the farm moved out of the watershed. The other was to accomplish something so that future farms like that couldn’t be built in the watershed.”
Normally, ADEQ initiates the rulemaking process but it is possible for a third party to do so. Now that the APCE Commission has granted the petition, the Public Policy Panel and the Ozark Society will put their proposed rules up for public comment after a public hearing scheduled for June 17 in Harrison. The petitioners and ADEQ will then have to respond to any comments, and if the Commission approves the rules, they’ll go before the legislature. If the legislature approves, it then goes back to the Commission for final approval. Ross Noland, attorney for the petitioners, said that if everything went smoothly, the rules could potentially go into effect by late August, but expects that the process could be longer.
The rules have to get through the Public Health committee, the Rules and Regulations committee and finally Legislative Council, which won’t be easy.
ADEQ Director Teresa Marks said the department did not have a position on the proposed rules one way or the other:
The department will enforce the rule if the Commision adopts it. We’re happy that the people of Arkansas are getting to weigh in on this issue and we will be happy to enforce any rule that is adopted. It’s a third-party rulemaking so we’re not advocating or opposing. Now if it was something we thought would create environmental harm we certainly would oppose that. But we don’t see that this is going to create any environmental harm, so we’re not opposing it.