As a resident of northwest Butler County I am concerned about the recent applications for hog confinement operations northeast and northwest of Bellwood.
I read where Jim Pillen had been granted construction permits by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for these two proposed operations, and was curious as to the permitting process which would allow these types of structures to be built on sandy soil near a river system and in close proximity to residential communities.
I assumed that if a construction permit had been granted, then the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality had made at least some preliminary finding that the operations would be within environmental guidelines set by the agency. In a brief review of the Nebraska DEQ website, I was quite surprised to learn that, in fact, a construction permit is needed if the potential emissions will exceed the thresholds in the Nebraska air quality regulations.
As such, oddly enough, the construction permit is not required to show that an operation will operate within regulation, but is just the opposite -- it is required when an operation is expected to exceed air quality regulations.
Obviously, this begged the question as to why would the agency in charge of "environmental quality" in Nebraska grant a construction permit to an operation which is expected to exceed air quality regulations? I then looked in to the actual make-up of the Nebraska DEQ. While Nebraska has a DEQ director, Mr. Mike Linder, the body that actually adopts rules and regulations is called the "Environmental Quality Council" which is a 17-member board appointed by the governor which is to set air, water and land quality standards in order to "protect the public health and welfare of the state." Who is on this council? A review of the actual members of this council who are supposed to be protecting the public health and welfare of the state indicates that the council is heavily weighted with members representing hog confinement operations, fertilizer application businesses, ethanol plants, power districts, resource districts, meat-packing plants and oil companies.
As such, the people charged with making environmental regulations in the state are actually representatives of businesses which historically oppose governmental regulations. One member, Rod Gangwish, actually said in sworn testimony concerning the 2012 Farm Bill that his business concerns would do better "if we had a free market, free of controls and regulations." Clearly, the DEQ in Nebraska is a body of good old boys who have no intention of regulating businesses with whom they have an unholy alliance. The Nebraska DEQ Environmental Quality Council is a classic instance of the fox watching the henhouse.
What did Mr. Dennis Heitmann, the Director of the Water Quality Division/ Agricultural Section, to whom complaints are to be made concerning the two hog operations in Butler County have to say when Adams Land and Cattle near Broken Bow had at least five spills totaling millions of gallons of urine and feces into Mud Creek in just 2010. That this was "probably unusual."
Previously, in response to another situation in Broken Bow in which there were many complaints about air quality, smell and respiratory problems in Broken Bow, Mr. Linder, the director of DEQ, said that the situation involves an odor problem, but not a violation of state air quality standards. He added that the DEQ has no authority to regulate odor, also adding that with odor problems the options for resolution reside with local government, either the local zoning authority or police power to address odor problems. A lengthy investigation by DEQ concluded that these problems were not related to having one of the largest feedlots in the nation only two miles south of Broken Bow, but were a result of people driving on county roads.
This is especially pertinent in the present situation involving Mr. Pillen's application for two hog confinement operations in Butler County, as he has obviously cherry picked a county in which the board of supervisors have no zoning authority. The Nebraska DEQ is a joke, and he does not have to abide by any zoning regulations concerning proximity to wetlands, river ground or housing.
Apparently, according to the Director of DEQ, then, the only resolution is with "police power." I would certainly like to hear from Butler County Sheriff Mark Hecker. Does he plan on arresting Mr. Pillen if his hog operations stink?
Mr. Pillen has promised that his operations will not stink over 1 1/3 miles away, and will then only stink about 3 days per year. Is Sheriff Hecker going to arrest him for being a public nuisance if this does not prove to be true?
Why doesn't Mr. Pillen build these lots a little north and west of Columbus where they would stink up his own home at Elks Country Club? Incidentally, why doesn't the so-called Environmental Quality Council have the authority to regulate odor? Is it because they can't, or is it because they don't want to? Dozens of states regulate odor as a public nuisance.
Obviously, in addition to odor problems come health concerns due to lack of air quality, as well as water quality issues arising when hog manure works its way into the local water system. Numerous studies outline the respiratory problems related to working around and living in close proximity to confined animal feeding operations.
What would Mr. Pillen have to say if all of those negatively affected by his hog confinement operations dumped a bucket of pig manure on his desk or front porch whenever they are unable to enjoy their own yards or lake properties because it stinks too bad outside? I'm sure he only wants other people to smell his pig ... , which only proves that he is a colossal hypocrite.
I sure think this is a situation which calls for group civil disobedience, especially given the total lack of governmental control in Nebraska in general and Butler County in particular.
Dean Venter is a resident of Clear Lake.