REP. MARY BENTLEY: Pulls down animal waste bill.

After an extended debate before a House committee today, the sponsor pulled down the hotly controversial SB 550 to transfer regulation of liquid animal waste from the Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. It goes to interim study, which means it’s dead for this session.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau backed the legislation, aimed at easing regulation of, particularly, factory hog farm. Environmentalists and Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others opposed the bill, using an existing hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed as the driving reason for a need to retain close regulation of animal waste.

Opponents raised a host of other concerns including. lack of tough penalties and enforcement capabilities at Natural Resources; conflicting language in the bill; the EPA’s likelihood of not accepting the law because it ran afoul of clean water law. The bill was amended to address some concerns about the lack of notice requirements and other shortcomings, but it didn’t quiet opposition. The Farm Bureau insisted critics were willfully misleading people, including whether the law would run afoul of EPA rules.

Particularly strong testimony in opposition came from Paul Means of Entergy, Tad Bohannon of Central Arkansas Water and Colene Gaston of Beaver Water District.

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With many still waiting to speak, Rep. Mary Bentley, the House sponsor, called for an end to debate. And then she recommended moving the bill to interim study. She said the bill was valid, but she said she’d heard the concerns and didn’t want confusion to linger. She said she was disappointed about some of the things said in debates. She said she thinks they were intended to cause confusion.

“I want to help our farmers,” she said. “We need more and more farmers not less. None of us like the smell of swine litter, but we sure like the taste of bacon. … We’ll get it done and we’ll get it done right.”

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No one objected to her motion to move the bill to interim study. A good source of mine said the issue was decided before the meeting began, with commitments for 11 no votes.