Arkansas Lawsuit Targets USDA’s Feedlot Waiver

Nathan Owens reported last week at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Online that, “A group from Harrison is among the activists suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over a 2016 exemption rule that allows ‘medium-sized’ feedlots and poultry farms, which can hold tens of thousands of animals, to sidestep the risk analysis process required of ‘large’ operations.

“The rule, court documents show, exempts certain poultry, pork, beef and dairy operations that apply for taxpayer-subsidized loans or loan guarantees from the usual process of public notice, public comment and federal oversight and has allowed for the establishment of dozens of ‘factory farms.’

“At least 100 medium concentrated animal feeding operations were approved for Arkansas from 2016 to 2017, according to USDA records cited in the complaint. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Dec. 5. The defendants include the USDA and its Farm Service Agency, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Administrator Richard Fordyce.”

Mr. Owens noted that, “The plaintiffs — eight U.S. agricultural and environmental advocacy groups — allege that the Agriculture Department developed a rule ‘categorically excluding [Farm Service Agency] funding of medium-sized concentrated animal feeding operations from National Environmental Policy Act review.'”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette article added that, “Before 2016, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency performed environmental analyses under an EPA act to assess the impact of government loans or loan guarantees on concentrated farm operations, before the loans or guarantees were approved. The farm agency would weigh the ‘negative externalities’ of the operations on nearby communities and then notify neighbors, farmers and other interested parties of the planned facility or expansion and the risks involved, so they could raise concerns ‘before the federal government disbursed funds,’ the complaint said. Risk assessments were conducted if an operation held at least 50,000 chickens, 27,500 turkeys, 1,250 pigs, 500 cattle or 350 dairy cows.

Under the current rule, medium concentrated animal feeding operations are exempt from the rule-making procedure, fast-tracking them for approval of federal loans or loan guarantees. The plaintiffs claim the Agriculture Department is in violation of federal clean air and water acts by allowing the rule’s exemption to stand.

Proponents argue the rule makes it easier for farmers to secure funding. Critics say the rule keeps residents in the dark until construction is underway. The plaintiffs contend that through the current rule the Farm Service Agency ‘now assumes these facilities have no environmental impact and exempts them entirely from analysis under [the National Environmental Policy Act].'”

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