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Bill To Limit Challenges To Hog Farms Awaits Final Vote

Sarah Whites-Koditschek
Rep. Jeff Wardlaw (right) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (left) speaking in support of their bill before a Senate committee Wednesday morning

A bill is up for vote by the general assembly  that would protect hog farmers from lawsuits for certain environmental issues once their waste permits are approved.

The legislation was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly today, and it's meant to reassure hog farmers as well as the banks who lend them money.

The legislation limits the public comment period to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) permitting process. It would affect almost 200 hog farmers in the state.

Co-sponsor Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) says it’s meant to block future challenges once permits are given.

"This bill simply says you cannot come back three, four, five years later, ten years later, and bring up that comment and take that farmer to court," says state Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch).

“This bill simply says you cannot come back three, four, five years later, ten years later, and bring up that comment and take that farmer to court because of a comment that was made during that window of opportunity, early on, when it should have been taken care of then," he said.

"And like I said before, these farms will still be under the purview and oversight of ADEQ if anything changes.”

A previous version of the legislation had singled out protections for the Buffalo National River area’s C&H hog farm, which was denied a new permit last year for not completing a study on groundwater flow.

Environmentalists like Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, are concerned that the legislation could still be employed in support of C&H, which the alliance believes pollutes the venerated river.

He says the alliance is involved in an administrative appeal of the farm’s permit, and the legislation could be used to change the outcome of that process.

“Attorneys are involved, and as you very well know, attorneys will take any opportunity to take advantage of vague language. So we asked for a little more specificity, and it would have been very simple. They could have said that it was not retroactive or that it was prescriptive only."

The bill’s sponsors say it has nothing to do with C&H and will not be used to support its appeal or future operation.

*Editor's note: A previous version of this story said the bill was headed to the governor's desk but it still awaits final legislative approval.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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