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story.lead_photo.caption Michael McAlister, the managing attorney at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, gestures while testifying before the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee at the state Capitol on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

2:15 p.m. UPDATE:

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House and Senate approved identical bills Wednesday that would make it harder to perpetuate complaints against farms that need permits to retain then dispose of liquid animal waste.

Under the proposals, third parties wouldn't be able to raise complaints after a comment period if the farm remains in "good standing" with state regulators. Opponents fear an inability to remedy potential problems, and a state senator said it could establish a precedent of regulators ending public input on other matters.

"We don't want to do anything that will result in an unintended consequence," said Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock.

The House approved the bill on a 73-6 vote, and the Senate approved its version 21-7. Only one version needs to pass for the matter to go to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Final votes are expected Thursday as lawmakers try to wrap up a special session.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, has routinely prefaced his remarks by saying the proposal didn't pertain to the C&H Hog Farm, which since 2012 has been authorized to hold 6,503 pigs near a tributary of the Buffalo National River.

Environmentalists concerned about potential manure runoff fear a new law might undermine their fight against C&H. Wardlaw said making a law out of current Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality practice would also benefit bankers concerned about ongoing challenges.

"We are not changing the public comment period. This outlines that, once this takes place, they are not subject to more lawsuits for new reasons," Wardlaw said.

Michael McAlister, the managing attorney for ADEQ, said the proposal doesn't weaken any environmental standards. "Depending on the circumstances and what you propose, you would have to meet the necessary requirements," he said.

State regulators rejected a C&H permit application in January as the farm sought to change from one type of permit to another. The farm continues to operate while it appeals the rejection.

ADEQ said Wednesday that 159 farms hold liquid waste permits like that sought by C&H. The Arkansas Pork Producers Association said the law would help its members in case there are future complaints.

"It gives some clarification to our current producers that someone cannot come in and sue them for what they have already been in business for," said Jerry Masters, the association's executive director.

In its application to the state, C&H estimated its lagoons would hold about 2.337 million gallons of waste — the equivalent of about 5.4 feet (1.6 meters) of waste atop a standard American football field.

— The Associated Press

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

11:30 a.m. UPDATE

The Arkansas House has approved a bill that designates when and for how long third-parties can protest against farms that require liquid animal waste permits.

The chamber OK'd the measure Wednesday on a 73-6 vote and sent it to the Senate, which earlier in the day saw a committee approve an identical version of the bill.

Farmers say state law should spell out that, if state regulators grant a waste permit, others shouldn't be able to mount continuous challenges. The bill's supporters say the proposal would give banks a certain peace of mind if they know their clients aren't being sued often.

Arkansas legislators are meeting in a special session that started Tuesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson also asked them to look at reimbursement rates for prescription drugs, and other matters.

— The Associated Press

10:23 a.m. UPDATE

An Arkansas Senate committee approved with little dissent Wednesday a bill that would ensure limitations to what the public can say and when on existing state animal farm permits.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved by a voice vote Senate Bill 8, a parallel bill to House Bill 1007 passed Tuesday. Sponsors said the bill would put in writing a process already practiced by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to only accept public comments on permit modification requests that are related to the specific proposed modifications.

Supporters said the bill would reassure farmers and bankers who lend to them, who are concerned that farmers could be subject to challenges after being permitted. Supports said concerns arose following the department’s denial of a new permit to C&H Hog Farms, a large concentrated animal feeding operation located on Big Creek in Newton County, about 6 miles from where the creek flows into the Buffalo National River.

Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, was the only dissenting vote, arguing that he didn’t think the Legislature should establish a precedent of passing laws to curb third-party public comments.

— Emily Walkenhorst

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Comments

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  • GeneralMac
    March 14, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.

    Good decision !

    Commenting on the original permit ?
    That train left the station a long time ago.

    You complainers are a " day late and a dollar short "

  • RobertBolt
    March 14, 2018 at 11:33 a.m.

    Curb speech, not hog manure!

  • FayFan
    March 14, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    Pretty sure this is not so simple. The original permit, granted in 2012, was for 5 years and needed to be renewed. Because of changes in federal law, THAT kind of permit is no longer being granted for facilities like this one and has now been replaced by a PERMANENT permit that does not require renewal every 5 years. Existing CAFOs under the OLD permit were required to apply for one of the NEW permits; the transition was not automatic.

    Surely everyone can understand why a permit that requires review every 5 years before it gets renewed would have a lesser degree of stringency in the approval process than a permit granted in perpetuity.

    When C&H applied for one of the new permanent permits, ADEQ refused to grant it, stating many of the shortcomings in the original permit that they probably now realize should never have been allowed. The new permit remains in limbo at this time. Thus, C&H has been operating under their original EXPIRED permit since last year.

    This new bill applies to EXISTING permits, like the expired one. I guess we'll find out soon if lawmakers intended for it to apply to all NEW permits as well. If so it is a complete end run around all regulations of CAFOs and puts everyone with a drinking water well that gets contaminated by swine sewage in a situation where they have no legal remedy.

    Making this even more egregious is the fact that most of the pork produced in new CAFOs these days is almost certainly headed to growing markets in Asia and other parts of the world. This makes Arkansas a 3rd world country that sacrifices its own environmental quality and public health so that major corporations and influential people in distant lands can enjoy profits and products we never see.

    How can this be right for the people of Arkansas?

  • rgrippo
    March 14, 2018 at 2:23 p.m.

    FayFan makes some excellent points regarding this hog-farm permit bill and correctly points out that there is usually a lot more to a story than is reported. However, he/she is very wrong with regard to where that pork is likely to go. More than 80% of pork production stays in the US. You may say that most of AR's pork production is exported, but I would like to see the proof. My statement is supported by pork export reports.

  • GeneralMac
    March 14, 2018 at 4:49 p.m.

    73-6
    21-7

    Not even close !

  • notbot
    March 14, 2018 at 5:05 p.m.

    Pork products go to Mexico, Canada, and yes, Russia.

  • KnuckleBall
    March 14, 2018 at 10:25 p.m.

    I wonder when this mess will wind up in Federal Court and be thrown out. Wardlaw like Rapert doesn't like people to speak out...

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