Editor’s Note: This letter is a response to a letter to the editor published in the Thursday, Aug. 22 edition of the Daily News.
Dear Assistant Commissioner Palin:
On behalf of the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), I am responding to your correspondence to the editor of the Greensburg Daily News regarding a recent news article.
In your letter, you say that Daily News reporter Rob Cox is not “telling the whole story,” providing “inaccurate information,” and “paint[ing] a distorted picture of the amount of oversight and evaluation that CFOs are subject to by IDEM.” Your contentions are apparently based, in large part, on your disagreement with statements I made which were quoted in the article.
As an initial matter, I’m concerned with the efforts of some senior IDEM officials to continue to try to discredit the Hoosier Environmental Council. This is the second time you have sent a letter to the editor of a newspaper accusing HEC of providing false and misleading information for a story despite the fact that the information provided was objective, verifiable, fact-based and truthful.
Consistent with HEC’s long standing and demonstrated commitment to transparency, professionalism, integrity and accuracy, the statements I made to Mr. Cox are well-supported by the facts.
Accurate Statement: “A lack of citations or enforcement actions for violations by IDEM against a particular CAFO or CFO is not proof that the facility’s operations are environmentally sound or neighbor friendly.”
As you well know, Indiana’s confined feeding law applies only to livestock facilities that meet the regulatory definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Confined Feeding Operation (CFO); that is, IDEM’s regulatory authority, applies only to facilities that confine at least 300 cattle, 600 swine or sheep, 30,000 fowl or 500 horses.
Those that confine animals under the regulatory threshold number -- regardless of harm they may cause to the environment and people who live nearby -- are not subject to IDEM regulation at all. This regulatory gap is significant with respect to protection of public health and the environment considering there are 38,600 livestock operations in Indiana, but only 1,966 of those (a mere 5 percent) are subject to IDEM regulation.
Moreover, even this small universe of IDEM-regulated CAFOs/CFOs have no IDEM restrictions with respect to their known and harmful air emissions and odors, adverse impacts on surrounding property values, or groundwater use or whether they are sited in an appropriate location. Indeed, in your letter to the Greensburg Daily News, you acknowledge that “citizens may have some frustration that the agency does not consider some issues such as odors, land use and traffic but IDEM can only address the issues for which authority is granted through the statutes.”
Consequently, the fact that IDEM has not issued a violation notice or taken enforcement action against a particular CAFO or CFO under the very narrowly focused CFO rule does not mean that the operation is not otherwise causing harm to the environment, public health or surrounding community.
Accurate Statement: “In order get permission to operate a CFO under state law, developers just have to submit some basic information; as long as they submit that information, the project is approved. There is no real third-party or objective oversight to verify the validity of that information. There really isn’t any follow up or inspection to insure that what is being proposed is actually done.”
As you point out in your letter, “if an application complies with the CFO rules,… IDEM must issue an approval.” An incomplete application may, as you point out, require “additional information to satisfy staff that it [the application] complies with the rules.” However, if the application is complete, the CFO/CAFO project, no matter how potentially harmful or significantly opposed by the impacted community, must nevertheless be approved.
One need only consider the recent public outcry over the proposed nearly 9,000 hog CAFO that IDEM approved to be built less than 800 yards from YMCA’s Camp Tecumseh to know that IDEM’s approval process is essentially a “rubber stamp.”
Indeed, at the IDEM public meeting in Hartsville (discussed in the article), an IDEM employee told those in attendance that of the 50 CAFO/CFO projects he had reviewed for IDEM in the last year and a half, not one was denied. The IDEM staffer, quoted in the article, went on to say that IDEM “never rejects any application for any reason.”
As for site visits and follow-up inspections to ensure protection of public health and the environment, it is hard to imagine how just seven people (the number of IDEM staffers dedicated to the CAFO/CFO compliance program for the entire state) are able to provide adequate oversight of compliance and enforcement for nearly 2,000 regulated facilities. The number of phone calls and emails we receive from people who are suffering from exposure to CAFO pollution, the number of streams and lakes impaired with E. Coli from animal waste, and the continuing waste spills and related fish kills, all tend to confirm that the environment and public are not being sufficiently protected.
Finally, your claim that IDEM’s CFO program “is more stringent than what the USEPA requires” is misleading and of no consequence to the question of whether IDEM’s CFO program protects public health and the environment. You are well aware, that recent federal court decisions have eviscerated EPA’s ability to regulate CAFOs under the Clean Water Act such that there is, essentially, no federal regulation of CAFOs. Therefore, any state program, even an ineffective one, could be considered “more stringent” than EPA’s.
Accurate Statement: “One reason for this lack of regulatory oversight is due to Governor Daniels’ promise, when he first took office, to triple hog production in Indiana and basically charging IDEM with getting out of the way.”
At the time I spoke with Mr. Cox for the story, it was my recollection that former Governor Daniels had committed to tripling pork production in the state. But, as you correctly point out, my memory was incorrect on this point -- the Governor promised to double pork production by 2025. Regardless, we are in agreement that former Governor Daniels promised to significantly increase pork production.
Indeed, in 2005, the year Daniels took office, the actual number of hogs and pigs produced in the state was 3.25 million. The latest Ag Census data from 2011 reveals that the state produced 3.85 million hogs and pigs that year -- an increase of 600,000 hogs and pigs produced annually in just six years. Given the state’s current “capacity” to produce 4.68 million hogs annually, we are well on our way to exceeding the Governor’s goal by 2025.
Also concerning, however, is that this significant increase in swine production is accomplished with 400 fewer, but significantly larger, “regulated” hog factories. For people who live near these giant animal factories, that means a significant increase in the amount of untreated hog waste they are exposed to. Specifically, the volume of waste generated annually by livestock is, on average, five times that produced by humans, i.e. a single operation with 5,000 pigs is estimated to produce the same amount of raw sewage as a town of 25,000 people.
Animal waste (including human waste) is known to contain dangerous bacteria and pathogens which is why human waste is treated before discharge or disposal. Yet, under IDEM’s CFO law, livestock waste does not have to be treated, is allowed to collect in open air lagoons and pits, and sprayed on fields where it can seep into groundwater, run off to surface waters, and make life unbearable for people who live nearby. With 769 of Indiana’s 2,000 CAFOs/CFOs located in just seven counties, that means a mere .03% of Indiana’s total population is disproportionately exposed to 38% of the untreated and largely uncontrolled waste produced by Indiana’s animal factories -- a true environmental injustice.
Finally, we know that Governor Daniels charged IDEM with “getting out of the way” to allow for increased pork production based on statements such as this one:
“The organizing principle of our entire administration is to provide the best possible business climate… by simply removing the barriers to investment. This means, for instance, eliminating environmental and other safety permitting that holds up growth,” Governor Daniels said in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in 2012.
With a state government committed to not enacting adequate safeguards and county governments having drastically reduced authority to regulate manure, rural Hoosiers who are surrounded by disproportionately high numbers of CAFOs and CFOs have significantly weakened government recourse for their health, environment, property values, and quality of life.
Accurate Statement: “There is scientific, medical, environmental and technical information from universities, health institutions and local boards of health from across the country that justify the concerns of Decatur County Farmer, Tom Warner, (an individual also quoted in the article) that a proposed 5,000 hog CAFO near his farm will “destroy” his camping, swimming, fishing and hunting business, and pose a significant hazard to the environment with a high probability of pig waste seeping into local groundwater.”
I hope that this letter clarifies the basis of my communications with Mr. Cox and that you will retract your accusations of “distortion” and “inaccuracy” which both impugn my character and aim to discredit the organization that I represent. We at HEC hope that, in the future, IDEM will stop trying to silence critics by intimidating reporters and, instead, adopt a more positive view of public criticism -- that is, a view that considers such criticism to be an opportunity for self-reflection, better understanding of diverse views, and improving agency policy and activities.
Kim E. Ferraro
Agricultural Policy Director
Hoosier Environmental Council