Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for governor, talked with Roby Brock at Talk Business about tax, business and education issues. He covered familiar ground, but his resistance to doing anything about an existing hog feeder operation in the Buffalo River watershed is worthy of note.
He said he supports efforts to protect Arkansas’ natural streams and has concerns about how a controversial large-scale hog farm permit was issued in north Arkansas near the Buffalo River. Hutchinson said he wouldn’t push to shut down the current hog farm operation that was approved in the area, but he wants to see the permitting process “tightened up” in the future.
“Obviously, it is a regulation that is important to protect our streams and our water quality that we value in our state. I grew up on the Spavinaw Creek drinking out of the stream,” he said. “But the farmers didn’t do anything wrong. The farmers went through the permit process, so don’t penalize the farmer. But first of all, my commitment is to protect the [Buffalo] river, and then secondly, you’ve got to make sure you tighten up the permitting process so that everyone has the notice – all the stakeholders, which they seemed not to have the last time, not adequate notice out there. So the farmers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed the rules, so don’t penalize them. But let’s protect the Buffalo River and the quality of life that we so value in this state.”
For now, it is possible to have it both ways. But I wonder what candidates straddling this line will say if the pending lawsuit and/or pressure over concerns about pollution produce what many believe to be inevitable — either a failure to renew the farm’s existing permit or a court holding that a proper environmental impact statement wasn’t done. Would he cheer regulation then? Demand that the requirement for impact studies be eliminated? What?
The core question: Should hog feeder operations with tons of hog manure effluent be allowed in the Buffalo watershed, with its porous underlying geology?