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Farm smells ignite debate but no consensus reached

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Before dinner can be prepared and served at the table, the food has to be raised on a farm.

However, Old MacDonald’s Farm with its placid scenes of pigs and cows is a shrinking segment of American farming, being replaced with large industrial agricultural operations with hundreds and thousands of animals.

Slim profit margins create the need for volume and push many farmers to build bigger barns and bring in more and more animals. When one of these larger operations is proposed, controversy is almost certain to erupt. While families need affordable and abundant food, many do not want to live next door to the New MacDonald’s Farm.

mcinerny McInerny

Large livestock farms that confine, feed and maintain the animals for at least 45 days are regulated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The operation’s size determines its classification. For example, an animal feeding operation with 600 or more swine is called a confined feeding operation and one with 2,500 swine weighing more than 55 pounds each is a concentrated animal feeding operation.

Many of the concerns and disputes center on the amount of waste the animals produce. According to a 2010 report by the National Association of Local Boards of Health, large feeding operations can generate between 2,800 tons and 1.6 million tons of manure annually. This can outpace the amount of waste produced by humans in an urban setting.

 A recipe for discontentment on the Indiana countryside is created when more farms expand at the same time families not used to the farm smells are moving to rural areas where they want to live on five to 10 acres of land, said Todd Janzen, partner at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP.

Today, the rules and regulations governing large livestock operations focus on protecting water. Much of the government’s focus is on how the animal waste will be collected and stored, and how it will later be applied to fields as fertilizer.  

Indeed, the permitting process for farmers wanting to start or expand a CFO includes submitting blueprints for manure treatment and control facilities in addition to soil and manure testing, locations of neighboring streams, ditches and lakes as well as maps of areas where the manure will be applied.

Not addressed by the rules and regulations is air quality. Yet, the smell is a common concern among neighbors any time any livestock feeding operation is proposed.

“That’s not their job,” Janzen said of IDEM. “Their job is the protection of the environment. There is not an environmental impact when someone smells manure in the country once in a while.”

Daniel McInerny, partner at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, agreed. He said the number one misconception is that odors from these operations pervade the surrounding area for miles. Actually, the smell stays within a few 100 feet of the barns, he said, although it could potentially travel a farther distance when the manure is applied to the fields.

To Kim Ferraro, water and agriculture policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council, the regulations are not balanced equally between property owners and farmers. The agricultural industry is very protected, she said, while the concerns about water and air quality are largely ignored.

Finding remedy in the courts can be a difficult hurdle to clear because of the amount of money needed to bring a lawsuit, she said.

“We’re not anti-CAFO,” Ferraro said of the council. “We’re pro-environment and pro-people.”

She pointed to a recent case – Eric Stickdorn and Lisa Stickdorn v. Elam B. Zook, Sarah F. Zook, Samuel L. Lantz and Mattie Z. Lantz, 89A01-1012-CT-670 – she argued and won before the Indiana Court of Appeals as an example of what neighbors of these operations must contend with. Here, the Stickdorns suffered physical illness and eventually had to leave their home because of the overpowering odor.

In a 2008 study, the Government Accountability Office examined the impact of concentrated animal feeding operations on air quality and found no consensus. The GAO looked at 68 government-sponsored or peer-reviewed studies completed since 2002 on the air and water pollutants from feeding operations. Seven of those studies linked pollutants from the animal waste to harmful emissions while three others found no negative air quality impact.

Typical emissions coming from the CAFOs are hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane and particulate matter.  

McInerny sees the public becoming more hardened against these large feeding operations. He blamed Internet chatter and a vocal minority which, he said, are spreading misinformation.

Contrary to the outrage when a feeding operation is proposed, he said, once the barns have been built and the animals are in place, most people do not even know it is nearby.

Possible changes coming

Both McInerny and Janzen pointed to recent revisions in the state regulations which have prohibited farmers from applying the manure to frozen, snow-covered fields. IDEM changed the policy because of concerns about the waste running off into streams and ponds.

The impact of this new restriction, from what Janzen has seen, is that some farms are deciding to constrict or stop livestock production altogether. These farms do not have the storage capacity to hold all the waste through the winter months and the cost of expanding to include more capacity is too much.

Moreover, the possibility of new regulations being imposed on small farmers could lead to an increase in the size of big operations. Again, the costs of compliance could force many small farmers to consolidate with larger farms.

So far, air emissions have not been a part of any new regulation, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been looking into the matter. It started a National Air Emissions Monitor Standards study to examine feeding operations and has been getting pressured to regulate. Twenty environmental groups petitioned the EPA in 2010 to regulate air emissions from large farms using the authority it has under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Farmers fear they might be required to capture all air emissions from the barns and then make controlled releases into the environment, Janzen said.

The strong push back against a proposed confined feeding operation for hogs that would be near the YMCA’s popular Camp Tecumseh in Carroll County has captured headlines and illustrated the common concerns neighbors have.

The farmer, John Erickson, received approval from IDEM to start a CFO on his White County farm with two wean-to-finish barns housing a maximum of 4,620 hogs each. Currently, his permit is under appeal at the Office of Environmental Adjudications and the camp has filed a lawsuit to block the farm’s expansion.

Ferraro believes the public outcry over this particular farm could bring the entire CFO issue to a head. In this instance, she said, the regulations cannot protect the children who go there every summer from potential odors and contamination.

Yet, in the Legislature, the favor has rested with the industry, Ferraro said. The 2013 session included several bills such as House Bill 1582, a measure she characterized as “disturbing.” This bill would have made bringing a nuisance suit against a farm more difficult and would have allowed the farm to avoid mitigating the nuisance if doing so adversely impacted the farm’s economic viability.

The Hoosier Environmental Council would like to push for more progressive regulations and laws, Ferraro said, but at present the organization’s focus in on fighting to keep the state from going backward.•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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