by Ken Midkiff, Ozark Chapter Director
State chapters and their lobbyists continue to deal with the usual wide range of legislative issues - pollution secrecy, electric-utility restructuring, urban sprawl, transportation, and state and private land use - but a common theme across the country has been pork.
Not your usual government pork, mind you. We're talking real, live oinkers, tens of thousands of them packed into concentrated feeding operations and cranked out like so many widgets. The ballooning growth of these facilities has overwhelmed rural communities where tons of untreated waste sprayed over fields manages to seep into nearby creeks and rivers, causing catastrophic water- and air-quality problems.
Federal, state and local authorities were caught completely unprepared for this onslaught. Traditional family farms, which are typically diversified and sustainable, haven't caused many problems and, in fact, are usually exempt from air- and water-quality laws and regulations. But there is nothing traditional about international corporations owning hog facilities that house 250,000 animals.
That's why Sierra Club chapters and their staffers, working with family farmers and sustainable-agriculture groups, developed a number of ways to combat this threat.
In Oklahoma, the state legislature passed tough, comprehensive laws to regulate hog factories and poultry operations, including strict limits on application of wastes.
A moratorium on new and expanded hog operations was extended for six months in North Carolina, giving the state legislature more time to effectively address the problems.
In Mississippi, the Sierra Club organized and mobilized opponents of mega-hog operations while "Big Pig" corporations used the lure of money to sway state politicians. In spite of industry efforts, a moratorium on new and expanded operations was put in place.
In South Dakota, a ballot measure to prohibit hog operations by non-family farmers passed easily in the November election, and Colorado voters passed a measure that imposes fairly strict regulations on large hog operations.
A weak Missouri state law passed in 1995 has failed to rein in Big Pig, so Sierra Club organizers have been assisting local counties in adopting health ordinances. And Club activists visited farmers in areas threatened by proposed hog factories and asked them to sign a petition saying they'll have their land appraised before and after the facility is built, and that if property values decrease, they'll sue. This tool is extremely effective.
Georgia has kept hog facilities at bay with nuisance laws, the appointment of a state regulatory committee and the enactment of a "Bad Actor" law that denies permits to out-of-state hog-factory operators with bad pollution records. Both the attorney general and the new governor support the regulations.
Sierra Club activists in Nebraska supported legislation to impose user fees on hog operations; the money will pay for 12 new hog-facility inspectors.
In Minnesota and several other states, lawmakers confirmed this year that county governments have the authority to regulate concentrated hog operations.
Maryland took a step forward by requiring nutrient management plans for hog factories that would better control the run-off of phosphorus and nitrogen, which pollute the state's waters. Club activists have been part of the community calling for stronger, more comprehensive regulations.
As Sierra Club chapters and others have forced eastern and midwestern states to put restraints on the corporate swine, the pork industry has gone farther west. The two largest operations in the country are under way and being expanded in Utah and Idaho. When they're operating at peak capacity in a couple of years, they'll produce waste equivalent to that produced by the population of Los Angeles.
Those working on the corporate swine issue at the state level have long communicated with each other, and now there's a formal working group chaired by Hank Graddy of Kentucky. The group includes volunteers, chapter staff and national staff who will coordinate the Club's activities in the coming year.
Just think of them as the Hog SWAT Team.
For More Information: Contact Ken Midkiff, (573) 815-9250; firstname.lastname@example.org; or Hank Graddy, (606) 846-4905; email@example.com.
Go on to the next article, "Triumph of the 'Truth Squad'"
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