By STAN MADDUX
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Tougher restrictions on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are again before the Indiana General Assembly.
Indiana Farm Bureau (INFB) has come out against state House Bill 1369 and Senate Bill 316. Justin Schneider, director of state government relations for INFB, doesn’t believe either piece of legislation will advance during this year’s short session that’s supposed to end March 15.
Both pieces of legislation, now in committee, require at least a one-mile setback from any property where an existing residence is located, and to comply with an unspecified odor standard.
Schneider said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management should continue to handle environmental standards because of its expertise in the field, while zoning matters should remain decided at the local level because of differences in the needs and makeup of communities.
“When you look at Indiana, counties are not the same. It’s really difficult to write a one-size-fits-all regulation for the state,” he said.
The Senate bill would also remove a statement from Indiana Code that “Indiana Code shall be construed to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices.” Currently, an agricultural operation running for more than one year does not become a nuisance under Indiana law if there’s been no “significant change” in the type of operation.
The Senate measure eliminates a list of certain types of changes already defined in the law as not significant.
One reason Schneider believes the measures will not advance far this year is because of the long history of the state legislature supporting local control on matters involving agriculture. He also said more restrictions require additional resources, like personnel, and the budget is not included in this year’s legislative session.
“Generally, in a non-fiscal year, they’re not going to do anything that has a fiscal impact. They’re only going to do that in a budget year,” he said.
Both the House and Senate measures also specify the owner of a CAFO own the livestock in a CAFO, and defines the owner as being the responsible party that also applies for a permit, permit renewal or permit modification for a CAFO.
According to the language in each measure, the responsible party may not start construction or operation of a CAFO without obtaining a permit from IDEM, and may not modify a CAFO without obtaining a permit modification from the agency.
The bills also require IDEM to provide public access to a permit application through IDEM’s Virtual File Cabinet and to publish a notice requesting public comments on the application, and hold a public hearing on the permit application upon written request.
The commissioner of IDEM would also be required to deny an application for a permit or modification if the proposed activity would substantially endanger public health or the environment, and to revoke a permit to prevent or eliminate a substantial risk to public health or the environment.
The state’s Environmental Rules Board would also be required to adopt new requirements for new CAFOs and for existing or expanding operations.
“This is a big change in the regulatory system in Indiana, under these two proposed bills,” said Schneider, who charged that some provisions in each bill also duplicate the existing process.
Already, for example, he said permits have to be obtained for construction and are not issued if they don’t meet water quality and other environmental requirements. “It’s already the law,” he said.
Last year, a measure INFB supported pertaining to CAFOs failed to pass. Supporters said the measure from 2017 would have streamlined and clarified the process for getting IDEM approval for constructing new and expanding present CAFOs.
Opponents including the Hoosier Environmental Council said that legislation would have watered down existing restrictions and eased up on other requirements of a permit applicant, such as reporting any past violations. The measure last year passed the full House but died in the Senate.
A legislative study committee, after studying the livestock issue during the summer and fall, recommended an increase in notification to potential neighbors and businesses that may be impacted by CAFOs, and to increase IDEM resources to allow for more periodic inspections of the facilities.
The committee also determined zoning matters related to CAFOs are best decided at the local level, with technical compliance determinations to be made by IDEM.
Josh Trenary, executive director of the Indiana Pork Producers Assoc., is also opposed to both pieces of legislation, saying they duplicate much of the work achieved by the study committee.
“They’re trying to address a bunch of issues that we’ve already addressed through several different hearings all summer long,” he said.