A bill that would keep counties from regulating large animal feeding operations more strictly than the state stalled in the Senate on Tuesday.
During the debate, critics of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, tried to require more notice to adjoining landowners of permit applications and a lengthier permit process that would include an inspection before the facility began operating.
Supporters agreed to include more notice but balked at adding steps to the permit process.
The bill was set aside after about three hours of debate when Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, offered an amendment to protect the ability of counties with planning and zoning to regulate CAFOs.
The Senate was debating Sen. Mike Bernskoetter’s bill to limit the power of county health ordinances over CAFOs. Twenty counties have passed CAFO regulations, including Cooper, Howard and Pettis counties.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, offered an amendment to require CAFO developers to seek a construction permit and notify landowners within three miles that the application was filed. If the construction permit was granted, Schupp’s amendment would have required an inspection before an operating permit was issued.
Lawmakers repealed the two-step requirement in 2013.
“If you want to do this, and there are ways to mitigate its impact and give people in the community a chance to talk and to weigh in, we should be doing that,” Schupp said.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, countered with a proposal to require the developer to notify all landowners within three times the buffer zone for the CAFO that it is applying for an operating permit and barring any construction until the commission issues the permit.
Currently, those applying for a CAFO operating permit have to notify all landowners within 1.5 times the buffer zone the state requires between CAFO buildings or lagoons and any other buildings or water sources. The buffer zones vary depending on the size of the CAFO, and setbacks for the largest CAFOs are 3,000 feet.
The Clean Water Commission holds a public comment period before it issues an operating permit, but the operator can start construction before it has one.
Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, asked what would happen when a smaller, unregulated feeding operation wants to expand into a CAFO, like the controversial Valley Oaks beef CAFO did in his district. Neighbors didn’t know about the expansion until construction was underway.
Hegeman said his amendment would apply to animal feeding operations applying to expand into CAFOs.
Bernskoetter objected to restoring the two-step permit process.
“One of the things we heard from farmers in their testimony is they’ve already got enough regulations from (the Department of Natural Resources),” he said.
Hegeman’s amendment says nobody can start construction on a CAFO until it has an operating permit.
Large CAFOs make up a large part of the economy in some of the counties in his district in the northeastern corner of the state, Hegeman said. The industry has to be protected by keeping the process down to one permit, but nobody should be taking the risk of building a multi-million dollar feeding operation without knowing it will be allowed to operate it, he said.
Who should regulate a CAFO?
Proponents of Bernskoetter’s bill claim DNR is the only agency that’s equipped to regulate CAFOs. They say county health boards, like the one that passed a CAFO regulation in Cooper County last year, don’t understand animal agriculture and shouldn’t be in charge of regulating it.
Holsman said he understands farmers’ concerns with county health boards making agricultural regulations. Health boards are designed to regulate restaurants to prevent food-borne illnesses, and to deal with other human health issues, Holsman said.
“Now, all of a sudden placing burdens and restrictions on my animal operation when that’s not how they were sold.”
The Cooper County Board of Health passed a regulation last year that would require anyone using manure from a CAFO as fertilizer to have a nutrient management plan, which CAFO operators are required to submit to the state to show how they plan to keep manure from polluting water.
The health board regulation came after the Cooper County Commission said it would not regulate CAFOs. It’s come under particular scrutiny because it was passed with the votes of three of four health board members.
The regulation isn’t being enforced while a group of 100 area farmers and landowners sues the health board, claiming it didn’t have the authority to pass the regulation and violated the Sunshine laws. Cooper and Nodaway are the only counties whose CAFO health regulations come from health boards instead of county commissions.
While health boards aren’t the right bodies to regulate CAFOs, counties should have some level of control, Holsman said. There’s also no guarantee Bernskoetter’s bill would nullify existing county-level health regulations, so there could be 94 counties with a different set of rules, he said.
County planning and zoning commissions can’t regulate crops or livestock, so county commissions and health boards have “backfilled” for them with health regulations, Holsman said. He offered an amendment that would allow county planning commissions to restrict CAFOs, but would still keep counties from regulating CAFOs with health ordinances as Bernskoetter’s bill intends.
“The only way you’re going to be more stringent than DNR is to create a planning and zoning commission for your county,” he said.
Currently, five counties -- Clay, Jackson, Cass, Greene and Stone -- have county-level planning and zoning restrictions and four counties — Putnam, DeKalb, Bates and Barton — have township-level planning and zoning restrictions.
Most zoning restrictions have larger setback requirements than the state. Cass and Clay counties require additional permits, and every township-level restriction requires a surety bond for manure storage lagoons, according to the MU Extension.
Holsman said other senators were pushing back on his amendment, but he said counties need to have some ability to add regulations. Voters can approve planning and zoning in class two and three counties, but they usually reject them, Holsman said.