Hog industry gets its way…as usual

By: - July 9, 2008 3:42 pm

 The state Senate just voted 42-6 this afternoon to pass its latest smelly little gift to the hog industry.

Two particularly disturbing moments from the debate and vote:

1) When sponsor Sen. Charlie Albertson of Duplin County – in an attempt to demonstrate what an open and honest process preceded the bill's last-minute rush through the Senate – told his fellow senators that the industry had asked him to pass it last summer but that he had told them to wait. He then related that he had been working with the key legislative staff attorney on the matter for months and that the environmental groups have known about the bill since…June 30. Gee thanks, Senator! What could the environmental groups possibly be upset about?

2) Though we've yet to see the official roll call yet, those listening on the Internet were treated to the sound of Senator Kay Hagan seeking recognition from Beverly Perdue to vote "yes." So much for the hope that Hagan might begin to demonstrate some progressive instincts or political courage in her run against the Lid-ster. 

Here's how Joe Rudek, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund described the bill in a press release distributed yesterday afternoon:

The NC Swine Farm Siting Act Amendments (H822), which guts the 13-year-old set back requirements for hog houses, passed out of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee today (July 8) and could be rushed to the Senate floor as early as July 9.  This bill would allow hog houses to be re-built in violation of the 1995 Swine Farm Siting Act, without regard for public health risks, if the buildings are damaged by fire, hurricanes or other "Acts of God."  Provisions established in 1995 requiring that neighbors of hog farms agree to variances in the set backs would become meaningless if the General Assembly passes these amendments.

Hog farms grandfathered from the 1995 Siting Act would become de facto permanent sites for hog farms with open air lagoons and sprayfields without any regard to the new Swine Farm Environmental Performance Standards passed in 2007.  The bill is purported to be needed to allow barns to be modified to allow increased room for gestating sows.  While EDF supports better conditions for gestating sows, this bill goes far beyond that objective.

H822 should not be considered this session.
Legislators should table H822 to allow full discussion of the long-term impacts on public health and air and water quality.  The citizens and communities that will be affected by H822 should be given ample time to study the bill and comment on potential impacts.  

H822 would allow farmers to disregard public health risks when rebuilding hog houses. 
Much has been learned about the public health impacts of emissions from hog houses since most of them were built in NC in the mid-1990s.  Ammonia nitrogen and odor emissions, such as those from hog houses, have been shown to represent a public health risk to community members and especially to children in schools in the vicinity of those hog farms. 

H822 would infringe on the rights of neighboring landowners.
Under current law, hog producers must get the approval of their neighbors to rebuild or modify farm structures if they can not meet the legal set back requirements.  H822 would remove that requirement and allow construction or repair without even notifying neighbors.

H822 would allow hog houses to be re-built indefinitely.
H822 would allow hog houses to be re-build indefinitely, with no consideration of options to upgrade to less polluting facilities.  This would have the effect of permanently grandfathering outmoded structures and technology on hog operations.

H822 could increase pollution by allowing farmers to change age classes for herds.
Allowing farmers to change age classes without triggering new permit requirements could increase ammonia, odor  and other pollution from hog operations.  Different hog age classes are grown on dedicated farms, each with distinctive waste signatures.  Changing age classes could have undesirable impacts."

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.