(This piece was originally published on March 10, 2017 in The Journal Gazette.)

Indiana doesn’t need to make it easier to start or expand a controlled animal feeding operation. The state has about 2,000 such farms, where cattle, hogs, sheep or poultry are raised in close quarters. If not managed carefully, the enormous amounts of waste that those operations generate can cause significant air and water pollution and make life nearly unbearable for people living nearby.

So it’s good news that Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long has sidelined a bill that environmentalists say could undermine the public’s ability to have a say in the expansion of CAFOs. The Fort Wayne Republican told The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly this week that House Bill 1494 is “just bad legislation” and may remain parked in the Senate’s Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee for the rest of the legislative session.

The man who introduced HB 1494, Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Warsaw, contends his bill is aimed at streamlining the state’s regulatory process.

“This basically came from IDEM (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management) and the pork producers” in an effort to reduce needless bureaucratic hurdles for those who want to make changes at a CAFO, he said in an interview Thursday. It fell to him to present the measure, Wolkins said, because “I’m the one who does all the cleanup bills.”

After hearing from the Hoosier Environmental Council and residents of areas with existing CAFOs, Wolkins said, he made two amendments to his bill. One would clarify that CAFOs could not begin operation without a state permit, and the other would specify when a CAFO has to apply for an amended permit to change its operation.

But the version of HB 1494 that passed the House last month still contains areas of concern.  Kim Ferraro, senior attorney for the environmental council, contends the reworked bill eliminates a requirement that CAFOs notify residents and local governments when they plan an expansion. And rather than streamlining procedures, Ferraro said in an interview Thursday, the bill would add “confusion and lack of clarity” to the state regulatory process.

Wolkins contends the bill makes no changes in the notification process.

It’s too bad all the energy expended on HB 1494 wasn’t directed toward helping to ensure that CAFOs don’t nauseate neighbors or pollute the environment.

Wolkins agrees CAFOs should be prevented from causing air and water problems, but contends that job is best handled by county officials using local zoning laws.

State regulators, of course, are better equipped to deal with complex questions of how CAFOs are built and run to minimize pollution, odors and groundwater contamination. The key, environmentalists argue, is not simplifying Indiana’s weak existing regulations but toughening them.

The environmental council’s suggestions for strengthening Indiana’s regulation of CAFOs include giving IDEM authority to deny permits for health or environmental reasons; requiring such farms to locate further from residences, schools, businesses and churches, as well as lakes, streams and wetlands; and setting air pollution limits for chemicals that emanate from CAFOs such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and volatile fatty acids. Now, Ferraro said, there are no odor or air emission limits for such facilities.

Even Wolkins, who concedes he’s “basically been supportive of CAFOs,” said he doesn’t disagree more could be done to regulate CAFO pollution. “If they want to do a bill to address this, then go for it,” he said, promising such a bill would get a hearing next year.

Wolkins concedes environmentalists were shut out of the process that created HB 1494. Perhaps, if this murky bill is allowed to die, the Warsaw representative, the farm interests and groups like the Hoosier Environmental Council could sit together and fashion a bill for next session that would streamline those pesky processes and address the real problems CAFOs now create.

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