A House Republican and Democrat are joining forces on a bill that would place more regulations on confined feeding operations, often called CAFOs, in the state of Indiana.

House Bill 1378, co-authored by Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) and Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville), aims to “address serious gaps in current law pertaining to factory farm pollution,” according to the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), which helped create the legislation.

The changes would put more restrictions in place for future CAFOs and would give the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), which is responsible for the initial approval of all confined feeding operations in the state, more authority to deny a CFO permit.

“I think part of the problem is that with IDEM, their regulations now I don't think are strong enough or clear enough,” said Errington.

The Muncie lawmaker said she often hears concern from consituents about the odor and health effects of the high-volume farms.

“What I'm looking at is trying to get IDEM, first of all, to be more responsive to public comments in their decision making,” Errington said.

The bill would give IDEM the authority to deny a CAFO permit if the proposed operation would “(1) substantially endanger public health, safety, and welfare or the environment; (2) pose an undue risk to property; or (3) create a public nuisance.”

It also increases setbacks for CAFOs, requiring at least one mile between any proposed CAFO and any residence, school, non-agricultural business, church, park or other public place, unless the CAFO shows it will control air pollution around the site.

The air pollution control exception is new to the 2019 version of the bill, and HEC Senior Attorney Kim Ferraro hopes it will give the bill enough flexibility to garner more support. Ferraro said the 2018 version of the bill received pushback from people who said the bill made it too difficult for future CAFOs to find compliant locations. 

“If a CAFO wants to build within a mile from a school or public place or residence it can do so if it gets a waiver or if it can demonstrate that it will limit the emissions at the property line,” Ferraro said.

Local resident Arndt Mueller proposed a similar change to Grant County's CAFO regulations last fall, asking for a mile setback between any existing church and any future CAFO. That proposal received a negative recommendation from the Grant County Area Plan Commission.

County Commissioners tabled Mueller's proposed ordinance change when they imposed a moratorium on all future CAFOs in Grant County.

Commissioner Mike Burton said he is working with Area Plan Commission President Robert Bothwell to form a committee that will review current county CAFO regulations.

“It would be my personal hope that we could announce the committee in the next 30 days because we need to move forward on this,” Burton said.

Ferraro said air pollution from CAFOs is currently unregulated by the state and the federal government. This bill would change that.

The bill would set limits on odor-causing emissions such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and other volatile organic compounds that may be released by the farms, Ferraro said.

It would also prohibit new CAFOs from being built on floodplains, require a manure management plan, put in place annual IDEM inspections (currently IDEM inspects every five years), require a permit applicant to give notice to all landowners within a mile of the proposed site and require IDEM to consider and respond to public comments in considering a permit for a new or expanding CAFO.

Barbara Stodghill, a Grant County resident who lives near Nolan Holloway's proposed CAFO site, liked the bill's requirement of annual inspections. She said she worries about how the land would be cleaned up if the CAFO stopped operations. She worried taxpayers would end up paying.

“IDEM needs to have these regular inspections, so it doesn't go south on the backs of these taxpayers,” Stodghill said.

But Stodghill said she doesn't believe HB 1378 does enough. She said she would have liked to see the bill deal with the issue of the storage of animal carcasses.

Errington, the ranking minority member of the House Environmental Affairs Committee, said she doesn't want to stop all new CAFO construction, she just wants CAFOs to “think longer about location and find the best location.”

“I'm not opposed to CAFOs, I just want them to be good neighbors and situated in areas that are well placed,” Errington said.

The bill is set for a hearing in the Environmental Affairs Committee in February.

For Ferraro, this is an improvement over last year, when a very similar CAFO bill also drafted by the HEC was not granted a hearing by Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman David Wolkins (R-Warsaw). Wolkins represents a small portion of northwestern Grant County which is part of House District 18.

Another bill dealing with CAFOs, authored by Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Evansville), is also awaiting review in the same House committee.

Errington said Bacon's bill was “not as extensive” as hers and Saunders's. Saunders is also a co-author on the Bacon bill.

Bacon's bill deals with air and water quality issues by creating new setbacks for manure storage and establishing air pollution restrictions.

Errington said she doesn't necessarily expect her bill to make it to the governor's desk but that that's alright with her.

“I'd just like for this bill to get a hearing, to air some of these ideas. I'd love for it to pass and become law, but complicated issues like this usually take more than one shot,” Errington said.

The Grant County Clean Air & Water Organization, which formed to oppose the Holloway CAFO, said in a statement the group was still at work on the issue of CAFOs.

“The group is still and (sic) work and were (sic) instrumental in a moratorium that was passed already for Grant County to NOT approve any CAFOs until our regulations were re-examined to make sure we don't allow our county to be over run (sic) by them. … In the meantime, our attorney is working with the Area Plan to deal with the Holloway appeal,” the organization wrote in a Facebook message.

Holloway has appealed the Area Plan Commission's decision to deny his permit in court.

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