Why are CAFOs being supported by MDNR?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dear Editor:

Why is it that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is so adamantly supporting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) at the expense of family farmers and the environment?

Note that the word used was "supporting." MDNR is not merely acquiescing to CAFOs that coincidentally are locating near state parks and historic sites, but are issuing permits that are suspect, unnecessary, non-protective, and maybe illegal.

To make matters worse, MDNR has never, ever caused a corporate-controlled CAFO to shut down or scale back its operations, no matter how egregious the violation. CAFO facility owners (the animals are owned by the corporations) can whine all they want about burdensome state regulations, but the fact is that unenforced state regulations don't mean diddly.

What MDNR is doing at Roaring River State Park, in southern Missouri's Barry County, is an example of MDNR going to bat for agribusiness (not agriculture). Recently, the agency issued an operating permit for the establishment of a 65,600 chicken CAFO on the uplands above Roaring River, even though the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) had ruled that the Construction Permit was "stayed" or stopped and even though MDNR may have violated its own procedures in order to issue and operating permit to the facility

Citizens in and around Roaring River State Park had objected in response to an MDNR issuance of a construction permit. These objections, primarily based on a high potential for polluting Roaring River Spring and Roaring River, were aired in public meetings and in the local media

Then several of the adjacent landowners legally challenged the construction permit that MDNR had issued by filings with the AHC. The AHC, on a motion filed by these neighbors, ordered on July 25 that the construction permit be stayed. A stay is the same as an injunction - all action is to be stopped. Then MDNR issued an operating permit, even though the stay on the construction permit was in force.

A bit of explanation: an operating permit cannot be granted until such time as a professional engineer certifies and affixes a professional seal that the facility was constructed substantially as initially approved. The MDNR sent a professional engineer to do this and he signed off but didn't affix his seal, which rendered the certification incomplete. So, MDNR sent down another professional engineer, who was more compliant. He signed off and affixed his seal.

On this basis, the MDNR issued an operating permit. Now we learn that the first professional engineer may have signed off on things that don't even exist and the second professional engineer may have "sealed" construction that should not have occurred

That is where this now stands. The AHC is all atwitter because its order was ignored. The Attorney General's Office, representing MDNR, has responded in a brief to the AHC by claiming that the AHC has the authority to issue a stay order but cannot enforce it.

The MDNR (through the Attorney General's Office) asserted that the conditions that led to the stay were no longer in place. But the AHC's stay was still in force; MDNR had not filed anything to lift that order.

My point is that MDNR will go to great lengths and do almost anything, even asserting that a legal order is unenforceable and hiring a professional engineer who appears to have signed off on non-existent facilities, to support the construction and operation of a CAFO.

MDNR seems to be all about protecting polluters, rather than protecting the state's natural resources. Of course, the agency claims it is merely seeking a "balance," but the scale tips toward protection when the air and water get fouled.

Fortunately, federal and state statutes and regulations are on the side of environmental protection. The problem is that it takes legal action to halt MDNR's unblinking support, and even then, it might be that MDNR will proceed in spite of a legal order to stop.


Ken Midkiff

Avid but not too successful trout angler.

Chairman of the Missouri

Clean Water Campaign

of the Sierra Club