Senate Bill 550, sponsored by state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, a former dairy farmer from Branch, aims to replace the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's permitting system for hog factories with a far less demanding "certification" process by the Natural Resources Commission, which lacks knowledge or experience in preventing waste contamination of our state's water quality.
Supported whole hog by the state's Farm Bureau (most visibly executive John Bailey, who in 2012 was a key player the state agency that wrongheadedly permitted C&H Hog Farms near a tributary of the Buffalo National River), Stubblefield's bill is likely the worst piece of needless legislation I've seen, so much so that I hereby deem it the "Superfluous Stubblefield Stinker."
Obviously I'm not alone by a long shot, as evidenced by the following position statement (edited for space) by Central Arkansas Water. (The Beaver Water District of Northwest Arkansas has issued similar opposition to this legislation).
"SB550 presents a threat to the health and well-being of the people of Arkansas. If enacted, this bill would completely change the way liquid animal waste disposal systems, which are used primarily by large swine to dispose of liquid swine waste, are regulated in Arkansas. Although characterized by supporters of the bill as an effort to achieve greater efficiency in the permitting process, SB550 has the potential to expose some of the state's most important natural resources, including public drinking water reservoirs, to liquid animal waste.
"Currently ADEQ is charged with issuing permits and conducting oversight of [such] disposal systems. ADEQ's process is effective and fair. It balances the needs of swine and daily farmers with the right of the public to a safe and clean environment. It ensures the involvement of well-trained, knowledgeable professionals with years of experience.
"SB550 would wipe out the current permitting process and oversight of these facilities and gut current regulatory protections. Public notification requirements would be eliminated. Minimum distance setback from neighbors, streams and lakes could be lost. Subsurface investigation requirements to determine suitability for waste lagoons would no longer be required. Anonymous complaints would not be accepted or investigated, and public reporting necessarily would be deterred. Established, effective enforcement protocol would go by the wayside. As a result, swine farms would operate in a much more permissive environment. And the prospect of liquid animal waste entering the water reservoirs of our great state would become a much greater threat."
The statement concluded: "While swine farms serve a role in the state's economy and culture, that industry should not be bolstered at the expense of the state's water systems and all of the state's people who rely on clean, healthy drinking water every day. As a result, Central Arkansas Water urges each member of the House and Senate to vote to preserve the current liquid animal waste permitting regimen by opposing SB550."
Those who care about preserving Arkansas' water quality in the country's first national river and elsewhere need to contact their elected representatives and senators and share your thoughts about the Superfluous Stubblefield Stinker. Time is critical.
Smoke and water
Anyone else find it interesting that our state and national elected leaders showed up at the stump dump fire in Bella Vista to express concern over that legitimate health threat? They've declared it an emergency and pledged tens of millions in tax dollars to extinguish the mess.
But what of the equally clear and present emergency along our treasured Buffalo National River? I've heard very little outcry from the same officials over the ongoing contamination and health threats within our Buffalo.
I'm certainly not denigrating the need to get Bella Vista's subterranean blaze finally smothered. I am saying potential health threats posed to those who splash around in the Buffalo (officially ailing along 14.3 miles because of elevated nutrients and potentially dangerous pathogens) represent a serious state and national issue.
That unacceptable situation surely deserves far more official attention and concern than it's received over the past six-plus years since C&H Hog Farms began spraying hog waste across hundreds of acres in the Buffalo's watershed. Some who've played in the Buffalo in recent years have reported becoming ill.
While residents of the Trafalgar Road section of Bella Vista have suffered, the impairment of our Buffalo and 15 miles of its tributary Big Creek that flows along the factory's spray fields also potentially affects many livelihoods in and around impoverished Newton County.
Wouldn't it have been refreshing to see our elected leaders stand beneath the river's majestic bluffs to denounce the pollution while vowing to spend whatever necessary to pinpoint and stop the cause of her sickness for the sake of all of Arkansas and millions of visitors?
While Bella Vista residents can and should protest their serious dilemma, our river has no voice, vote, or ability to personally lobby and influence legislators.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 03/19/2019
Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: A real stinker