The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s unanimous vote today not to enforce any immediate action following a decision earlier this month to deny C&H Hog Farm an operating permit was a win for the beleaguered and controversial swine operation, but a slight and temporary one.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced on Jan. 11 its decision to deny the permit after more than 21 months. The hog operation has been operating on a lapsed permit until now.
The commission voted unanimously — with one member, Dr. Gary Wheeler, abstaining — not to actively enforce the permit denial until an appeal of the decision can be heard, though to date C&H hasn’t filed any appeal, a fact that administrative law judge Charles Moulton repeated often.
The hog farm supplies JBS U.S.A., a global meat processing company, hogs for pork processing. It’s lapsed permit capped the number of piglets at 4,000 and sows at about 2,500. The new permit sought to bump the number of sows and piglets and add boars. It estimated that animal waste ponds at the facility might hold more than 2.3 million gallons of manure.
The department denied the permit on the grounds that the application lacked critical information, specifically, “the requisite geological, geotechnical, groundwater, soils, structural, and testing information specified in Reg. 5.402” and “required by the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook.”
Following the vote, farm co-owner Jason Henson – the H in C&H – called the whole matter unfair.
“This is a very serious matter to us. I mean this is — we feel we’re being treated unfairly, and the stay to let us prove our innocence in court is all we were asking for.”
In fact, the appeals process does not entertain or adjudicate “innocence,” and lawyer Richard Mays, an opponent of the farm’s original permit and its new application, said reversing the agency’s denial is a tall order.
“They’re in a very difficult position right now. The agency has denied the permit. It is a decision that basically depends upon the expertise and judgement of the agency, and these appeals are going to have to throw into question whether the agency abused that discretion. That’s a very high standard.”
Mays, who represents the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, denied that the commission’s unanimous vote gave the farm any “momentum” going into the appeals process, if they appeal, but he did say the vote today felt “equitable.” It permits the business to continue to operate, which is important to the livelihoods of many at the hearing.
But it doesn’t reverse the agency’s ultimate decision.
Henson and many others, from the state farm bureau to the pork producer JBS U.S.A., spoke on behalf of the farm. Lots of opponents were there too, saying that waste runoff from the farm demonstrably damages the water quality of the Buffalo River.
The farm and its advocates have until Feb. 10 to file an appeal. Administrative law judge Charles Moulton said that, if it’s denied or no appeal is filed, the next step would be for the farm to make a closure plan and turn it into the state.
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