A Senate committee today approved SB 550 to transfer regulation of liquid animal waste from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. Opponents said it would lessen regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations and pose a risk to water quality statewide.

Backers of the bill described it as government efficiency, placing regulation of dry and liquid application of animal waste under one agency. Litter application by poultry farmers is governed by the Natural Resources Commission. John Bailey of the Arkansas Farm Bureau said that agency was well-equipped to oversee the issue.

The bill was written to leave oversight of the controversial C and H Hog Farm in the Buffalo River watershed under ADEQ. That didn’t soothe environmental groups.

Gordon Watkins of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance said ADEQ had more expertise than the other agency to oversee liquid waste.

The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
urged opposition to the bill in an e-mail alert, saying in part.

This bill weakens existing water and air quality regulations and undermines current efforts to protect the Buffalo National River from degradation due to swine CAFOs and threatens water quality across the state It does away with permitting requirements for liquid animal waste systems (aka: CAFOs) altogether, replacing permits with mere “certification”.

It removes all CAFOs currently covered under APC&E Regulation 5 and regulated and enforced by ADEQ and places them under the authority of ANRC, apparently without the requirement of a permit at all. All existing Reg. 5 CAFO permits will be transferred to ANRC by Jan. 1, 2021.

SB550 exempts CAFOs from regulation under the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act.

It allows an applicant to “waive …public notification period requirements”.

ADEQ will be consulted only for technical assistance in the event of violations or modifications. Therefore, ADEQ is acknowledged as having the greatest expertise in permitting, regulating and enforcing CAFO permits.

Watkins acknowledged C and H was exempted from the bill, but he said that doesn’t eliminate the potential for harm from future operations to the Buffalo River.

Other opposition testimony included comments from a retired Tyson Foods executive, who said ADEQ had learned and developed further expertise from mistakes made in initial handling of the C and H matter, and from ADEQ employees. The latter said that the bill doesn’t retain water quality protections required by ADEQ regulation and federal law.  Following a USDA handbook on handling of waste would no longer be required under NRC oversight. Committee members defended the expertise of the NRC.

Jessie Green of White River Waterkeeper added this critique later:

Two additional major concerns with SB550 include:

1) Major deterrents and obstacles for citizens to report violations. According to Arkansas Code 15-20-101 – any person providing information about possible violations CANNOT do so anonymously. Legal name and physical address are required. Also, complaints must be notarized and mailed to ANRC. This information is open to the public under the FOIA, meaning more reporting obstacles for those fearing retribution.

2) If enacted, SB550 will eliminate the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Reg. 5 prohibition on state permits for large swine operations in the Buffalo River watershed. This prohibition represents a hard-fought policy victory for the conservation community. Thousands of people commented in favor of the prohibition in the ADEQ rulemaking proceeding. Governors Beebe and Hutchinson supported the rule, and the legislature eventually reviewed and approved it. SB550 would now take such permits from ADEQ and place them with ANRC, leaving Reg. 5 orphaned, including its prohibition on state-permitted large swine facilities in the Buffalo’s watershed. This is a betrayal of the public will, and an elimination of a common-sense protection for the most important waterway in Arkansas.