So called "mega-farms" have come under fire for odors, clouds of flies and other problems related to having millions of chickens on a single farm. The Ohio Attorney General has threatened to take Buckeye Egg operators to court over environmental violations. Now the federal government is involved in the issue. The feds say Ohio isn't doing enough to protect the environment and may withhold money to punish the state. 90.3' Mike West reports.
Mike West- It's not unusual for the government to use money as a way to get states to do what they want. For example, threatening federal highway dollars has been one method used by Washington to get states to buckle under to their wishes or laws. $145,000 is on the line in this case, the balance of a $400,000 grant. United States Environmental Protection Agency leaders could hold back on giving the state the cash because they want Ohio to change the way large farms, like Buckeye Egg, are awarded permits. Ohio EPA spokeswoman Hedi Gresemier says the news came out of nowhere, and took everyone at her agency by surprise.
Hedi Gresemier- We met with the US/EPA in November, and at that time they told us they knew it was going to take some time to resolve this issue, and our grants this year would not be affected. And a month later they turned around and sent us a letter saying they were planning to withhold grant money if we did not decide to use the Federal Discharge Permit.
Mike West- Gresemier says the money in jeopardy would be used for the kind of enforcement the federal government is demanding.
HG- And the grant we use to regulate these large scale farms, so it's actually counterproductive that they want us to do more, but they are taking away our money.
MW- Here's the situation: If a farm has over a thousand "animal units", they need a permit from the Ohio EPA. A long standing agreement with the federal government lets the state issue permits for the large farms. But the bargain calls for the state to uphold minimum federal clean water standards. US/EPA spokesman Steve Jann:
Steve Jann- The dialog that were having at this juncture concerns the exercise of the legal authority that Ohio EPA has.
MW- Jann says "concentrated animal feeding operations", like Buckeye Egg, are considered "point sources" of water pollution and should fall under strict rules that are applied to things like sewage treatment plants and factories. He says Ohio needs to do better in making large farms like Buckeye Egg handle their chicken manure and urine so it doesn't contaminate water supplies. But Jann says it's not too late for Ohio to get the rest of its grant money:
SJ- We are working with them to arrange for changes to their initial proposal, such that we would be able to award the balance of that requested funding.
MW- No one seems to like mega-farms, but that hasn't stopped their numbers from growing. There are at least 120 in Ohio. Doug Durliat of the Ohio Farmers Union says most follow the rules so the public never hears about them. He's angry one bad apple, or one bad egg that has brought embarrassment and shame to the whole industry.
Doug Durliat- The problems that you've been hearing about regarding animal feeding operations in Ohio have stemmed from Buckeye Egg. Ninety-nine percent of them have.
MW- To make matters worse, a Michigan company has applied for a permit to start a dairy cow mega-farm only about 12 miles from one of the Buckeye Egg operations near Marion. With all the attention on more regulations on farmers, Durliat is afraid the family farm, and not giant corporate operators, will suffer if the situation leads to a "get tough" attitude.
DD- There are a lot of hog operations and some poultry outfits in northwestern and west central Ohio, and maybe some other parts of the state, which are family run operations. They are over 1,000 animal units, therefore they're under EPA jurisdiction, but they've run their operations very well, very efficiently and cleanly. And we don't want to see them get regulated out of the business because of one bad player who's over large, in our opinion, and has just been basically thumbing their nose at regulators.
MW- Meanwhile, Governor Bob Taft has his own theory of why the government is suddenly so interested in our farms. He blames the Al Gore presidential campaign. According to Associated Press reports, Taft believes Gore is ordering a crackdown on the state because he wants to win back environmentalists angry with his failure to stop a hazardous waste incinerator project in southeast Ohio.
I'm Mike West for 90.3 WCPN in Cleveland.