You may find it as unsurprising as I do to learn what both gubernatorial candidates have to say (and not) about our state wrongheadedly permitting that controversial hog factory at Mount Judea in our state's precious Buffalo National River watershed.
GOP candidate Asa Hutchinson and the Democrats' Mike Ross believe the Department of Environmental Quality (cough) properly issued this permit, which enabled this manure-laden factory of up to 6,500 swine to set up shop six miles upstream from the river. They also say the factory owners and their sponsor (multinational food giant Cargill Inc.) jumped through all the hoops necessary to acquire the permit.
Apparently there's nothing either candidate could, or would, do to either close or move this potential polluter should he become the person in charge of what has become the politicized agency responsible for protecting our natural environment. Too late, they say.
It doesn't matter that the sufficiency of the state's entire process to approve this factory has repeatedly been called into question. This includes the department's own director, Teresa Marks, conceding that she didn't know her agency had issued the permit until after the fact. Neither did staff at the local office in Jasper. That's still jaw-dropping unbelievable each time I write it.
Those who've followed the travesty don't need me to repeat the long list of genuine concerns here. The bottom line is that water and pollution always flow downhill. In this case, C&H Hog Farms regularly sprays endless gallons of raw hog waste onto fields around Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo, and atop a fractured karst subsurface that rapidly transports whatever is applied to it.
Back to what the gubernatorial candidates have to say about what they'd do should they become the person who appoints the Environmental Quality director and is therefore ultimately accountable for that that agency does and fails to do.
Here's what Hutchinson told me: "The Buffalo National River must be protected and I will take any necessary steps to protect its water quality and environmental health. In the case of the farmer in Newton County, the farmer has done nothing wrong and has complied with all the permitting requirements of the state.
"I support continued monitoring of the watershed and also more effective notification requirements on future applications to assure that all interested parties are notified and have adequate opportunity to express any concerns. I grew up drinking fresh water from the Spavinaw Creek on our farm, so I am committed to protecting the quality of our water sources and the Buffalo River in particular. Many Arkansans depend on the tourism generated by our state's natural beauty and the Buffalo River is a major part of that economic engine."
Ross sent a statement saying he, too, opposes additional hog farms in or near the Buffalo River watershed. "But this farmer followed the rules that exist now and did everything right." Congressman Hutchinson has said he opposes putting a hog farm anywhere in Arkansas. Ross said he supports the right of people to have a hog farm "if they receive the proper permits and do not harm the environment." Yet Ross also called the permitting process leading to the current hog farm flawed, believing that more public input is needed throughout the process.
Now I'm not a candidate for governor, nor would I ever become one. But I do believe if I were the governor of a state proudly boasting the country's first national river, I'd have no problem firing the director who said she didn't know her own agency had permitted the factory. Then I'd politely ask Cargill's CEO to make the factory owners financially whole and to transfer the thousands of hogs they are raising for Cargill to a suitable location.
Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for another state entity to monitor the water quality around this factory that the state permitted strikes me as a preposterous waste. It also smacks of needlessly bending way over way backwards for years to make sure that what the state enabled isn't harming the river. This conflict has never been about "farming," but the untenable location of a hog factory.
It's got to be exhausting for any governor to try to do the right thing while appeasing obvious special-interest political contributors and their lobbyists who oddly seem to enjoy having this factory in such a threatening location.
As a footnote, it's been reported that the Gov. Mike Beebe-appointed Ms. Marks plans to retire from her exalted position at the end of September.
If her pending departure is true, I can only say how fortunate for her that she'd curried enough favor from Beebe to have hung on this long after allowing such a needless situation to ever develop in our national river watershed. Perhaps her replacement will be far more diligent in protecting what rare natural treasures we have in our relatively poor state.
Yet somehow I can't help believing he or she also will be snared in the political cobwebs that too often prevent truth and doing the obvious right thing from ever escaping into reality.
Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.
Editorial on 08/03/2014
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