The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission would be the sole state agency responsible for regulating livestock waste under a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would shift the responsibility of regulating liquid animal waste to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.
The ANRC currently only regulates solid animal waste. Under the proposed bill, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality would no longer regulate liquid animal waste, which comes primarily from dairy and hog farms.
Stubblefield said it would benefit farmers to have only one state agency regulating their farm’s waste output.
"These regulations must be no less stringent than the existing regulations while allowing ANRC the flexibility to implement additional regulations consistent with our current statutes," Stubblefield said.
The Department of Environmental Quality has come under scrutiny in recent years for its handling of Newton County-based C&H Hog Farm, which has been blamed for pollution in the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas.
Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill, saying it would seek to loosen regulations on farms like C&H.
"This is not a step forward. We know what's happening in the Buffalo River, we know the water is degrading in the Buffalo River," Bond said. "It's not a time to make it easier, it's a time for us to truly embrace that we are the Natural State."
ADEQ issued a final denial of an operating permit for C&H last November. Stubblefield said the proposed changes in regulation would take effect by 2021, and new regulations governing animal waste could not be less strict than current standards.
The bill passed by a vote of 25 to 5 with 5 members present or not voting. It now goes to a House Committee for further discussion.
UPDATE: Anne L. Isdal, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sent a letter to ADEQ Director Becky Keogh saying the agency is reviewing the bill. See the letter here.