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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Jeff Wardlaw speaks at Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee meeting Tuesday, March, 13, 2018.

The Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee approved with no dissent Tuesday morning a bill that would ensure limitations to what the public can comment on regarding hog farm permits that have already been issued.

The committee approved by a voice vote House Bill 1007, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, which states that hog farms in good standing that apply for a permit modification cannot have anything more than the modification commented on. Specifically, the location of the permit would not be up for comment.

[OTHER NEWS FROM THE SESSION: Arkansas panel endorses college savings change]

Wardlaw said the bill only puts in writing what the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality already does. It would not affect C&H Hog Farms, which was recently denied a new operating permit near the Buffalo River.

Opponents of C&H Hog Farms expressed concern that the bill would affect the farm, which abuts a Buffalo River tributary in Newton County and is the only federally classified medium or large hog farm in the area. Opponents of the farm fear the farm’s presence is an environmental risk to the river.

"I will not address the 800-pound hog in the room," Gordon Watkins, the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said as he opened his testimony against the bill. His fear, he said, was that the bill could cut off his group's current effort to close the farm over fears of manure runoff.

"If there is some effort to protect C&H, we will come back to hold them accountable," he said after the bill passed unanimously on a voice vote.

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The bill applies to liquid animal waste system permits, which are typically hog farms. Poultry farms don’t need permits, and cattle farms only need them when they are confined, which they typically aren’t.

Under Wardlaw's bill, if a permit-holder seeks only to modify a permit, the entire case isn't reopened.

"We're not taking away any public comment period on the front end," Wardlaw told the panel.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who put the issue on the legislators' agenda when he announced the special session Monday, said he believed the bill had appropriate limits.

"C&H Farm had a federal permit. What happened was a lot of the farmers in the community got concerned that, 'Well, if C&H Hog Farm is going to be denied continuation of their permit, then somehow it's going to impact my right to farm,'" Hutchinson said Tuesday. "This legislation ... reduces their fear that somehow they're not going to be able to continue in operation."

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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  • Knuckleball1
    March 13, 2018 at 1:10 p.m.

    Anything sponsored by Wardlaw should be looked at very closely... Someone needs to check out his farm and see how many laws he is violating.

  • hah406
    March 13, 2018 at 1:30 p.m.

    So you want prior restraint on public comment on a public matter. What a load of hog crap. If DEQ had given everyone proper public notice and the lawful period to comment originally, that monster crap factory wouldn't be where it is. Why don't you go write a law that says DEQ has to follow the law in the first place.

  • TimberTopper
    March 13, 2018 at 4:38 p.m.

    What a bunch of sorry Bastards!

  • RBBrittain
    March 13, 2018 at 6:20 p.m.

    How come there's no parenthetical after Rep. Wardlaw's name with the letter of his party and where he's from, ADG? Did you repeal that part of the AP Stylebook so you wouldn't disclose all the silliness the GOP does nowadays?

  • FayFan
    March 13, 2018 at 9:45 p.m.

    Meanwhile, in the halls of Congress a different set of lawmakers is deliberating two new bills that would gut existing environmental protections of clean air and water from the same kind of factory farm pollution.

    One bill would prohibit citizens from suing factory farms for manure pollution in their drinking water wells. This type of suit helped restore clean drinking water to hundreds of households in Yakima Valley, Washington, whose wells were contaminated with nitrates from manure. (Federal judge rules against Washington state dairy, says manure pollution threatens water. Star Tribune, January 15, 2015)

    The second bill would exempt factory farms from reporting releases of toxic ammonia and hydrogen sulfide — gases that can cause serious health impacts — into the air we breathe. Reporting of this information is important: in 2008 a Minnesota community had to evacuate after hydrogen sulfide from a nearby manure lagoon caused people to "literally throw up in their driveways." (Dairy Fumes Cause Neighbors to Evacuate. Minnesota Public Radio, June 10, 2008. )

    What sorry values our lawmakers hold, to be so utterly beholden to Big Ag they cannot see beyond their next pork chop.

    We can't sit this out. We all must make as much noise as possible and demand that these bills do not pass. Our descendants will be horrified if we allow our natural areas to be thoroughly destroyed by CAFOs just so a handful of corporations can sell mountains of pork to distant markets in Asia.

  • BoudinMan
    March 14, 2018 at 8:36 a.m.

    This is our republican-controlled legislature(s) at work. We can do something about it, but then it would take some caring and effort on our parts.