Tuesday, October 23, 2018 1:00 am
State must balance interests of large farms, residents
Margo Tucker is assistant director of the Downstream Project with the Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund.
Advocates of confined animal feeding operations claim it is unfair for Indiana citizens to draw a correlation between factory farms and the pollution of streams and rivers.
There is a reason this belief exists; the reason is rooted in fact. Here are just a few recent examples of CAFOs negatively affecting waterways in Indiana:
• In 2017, the High Point Dairy CAFO in Wayne County filled its manure lagoon beyond capacity. It overflowed into a field tile that led to Fountain Creek, killing more than 3,500 fish.
• In 2012, an 8,000 Indiana hog CAFO, known as Hopkins Ridge Farms, sprayed wastewater onto a field, which coursed off into ditches and then into Beaver Creek. The spill polluted more than 20 miles of the creek, wiping out 148,283 fish and 17,563 freshwater mussels.
• Just a few months ago, another Indiana CAFO, owned by Gibson Grain and Supply, sprayed manure onto a field it owned, which mixed with sugar water and discharged into a ditch that flowed into Beaver Creek, killing 2,000 fish.
• In Randolph County, a large dairy CAFO called Union-Go experienced numerous environmental failures, including at least two manure spills into nearby creeks.
This is why Indiana citizens draw a connection between supersized factory farms and pollution of streams and rivers. Because they've seen it, they've read about it or they've lived it.
CAFO advocates claim that citizens who push for CAFO reform are anti-farming and will not be satisfied until the entire livestock industry is extinguished in their county.
This belief is unfounded. The community groups I've worked with, as well as my own nonprofit, are pro-farming. Many concerned citizens are farmers themselves. Our mission is not to eliminate CAFOs. We are pushing for effective regulation of CAFOs to protect the health and well-being of rural families. The argument that concerned citizens are “insatiable” greatly exaggerates the issue being debated, inhibits effective communication and diminishes any hope of compromise.
CAFO advocates attempt to assure communities of their safety by pointing to the power of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to revoke CAFO permits for any violation of water-control laws. They argue that the threat of revocation keeps CAFO operators in line and communities safe.
I called IDEM to find out how many CAFO permits had been revoked in recent years. The representative I spoke with said that he could not remember one CAFO permit ever being revoked. While IDEM possesses the power to revoke permits, that power is not exercised. Obviously, the threat of revocation doesn't have the deterrent effect advocates claim it does.
Lastly, CAFO advocates claim that environmental regulations for CAFOs are so strict that no additional local regulation is needed.
Environmental regulations of CAFOs in Indiana are not strict. In fact, those regulations have become more lenient in recent years. In the past, farms defined as CAFOs were subject to significantly different regulation compared to smaller combined feeding operations. Most notably, CAFOs were required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Following a series of court rulings, CAFOs in Indiana were no longer required to obtain such permits unless they directly discharge into a state waterway. Additionally, air emissions from CAFOs are not currently regulated under the Clean Air Act, even though they emit many substances that are supposed to be regulated under the act, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds.
At the state level, IDEM does not regulate CAFO facility location, dead animal disposal, property value, odors or vectors. Indiana is what is known as a “home rule state,” which means each county has the power to determine whether it wants to allow CAFOs within its borders and where they should be located.
State CAFO regulation is meant to serve as a floor, not a ceiling. State agencies set out the bare minimum CAFOs must meet and expect counties to build upon those regulations in a way that will best protect their citizens. In doing so, counties are meant to consider their unique natural resources, environmental conditions, economy, public health concerns and community values.
Making the argument that environmental regulations of CAFOs are sufficiently strict ignores the rationale behind our current framework of CAFO regulation in Indiana and defies historical regulatory trends at the state and federal levels.