Legislature votes today on the future of the Buffalo River | Arkansas Blog

Friday, December 5, 2014

Legislature votes today on the future of the Buffalo River

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 4:51 AM

PROTECTION SOUGHT: A rule to protect the Buffalo River from hog waste is before legislative committees today.
  • PROTECTION SOUGHT: A rule to protect the Buffalo River from hog waste is before legislative committees today.

A rule to limit future hog feeder operations in the Buffalo River watershed is up for review by legislative committees this morning. Environmentalists view the rule as vital to protection of the river.

The Public Health and Agriculture committees of the House and Senate will review the rule proposed by the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. Only votes of the Public Health committees matter — meaning the rule needs five Senate votes and 11 House votes. The rule prohibits future medium and large confined animal feeding operations in the watershed. EPA regulations would define the allowable number of animals.

This won't affect the C and H hog farm in Mount Judea, where 6,500 hogs are being housed near a major Buffalo River tributary. It is the only operating farm big enough to fall under the new rule, but would be exempt. The rule was proposed by the Ozark Society and the Public Policy Panel because the agency wouldn't propose it.  The rule would prohibit operations with 750 or more swine weighing 55 pounds or more or 3,000 or more swine weighing less than 55 pounds.

There's currently a moratorium on new feeding operations in the watershed, renewed in October for six months. Moratoriums can be renewed repeatedly, but, as a practical political matter, legislative refusal to adopt a permanent rule would be a disincentive.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau and pork producers have been lobbying strenuously against the rule.

A broad coalition has worked to protect the watershed from hog feeding operations, including former Republican Congressmen John Paul Hammerschmidt and Ed Bethune. The porous limestone that underlies the region is susceptible to spreading hog manure leakage from waste pits into bodies of water. Judge Price Marshall outlined the potential threats graphically in his ruling this week that federal agencies hadn't adequately considered environmental threats before guaranteeing $3.6 million in loans that allowed the C and H feeding operation to open.

This is a rare political issue that isn't readily identifiable on partisan grounds. The Buffalo National River holds a special place in the hearts of people of many different political outlooks. The Farm Bureau sees protecting it as bad for business.

The question this morning is a simple one: Which is more important? The water quality of the Buffalo River or keeping the door open to mass swine feeding operations, with oceans of pig manure, in its watershed?

The committees meet at 9 a.m.

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