COLUMBUS - The Ohio House yesterday overwhelmingly agreed to overhaul regulation of so-called factory farms like Buckeye Egg Farm after rejecting an attempt to allow citizens to sue the state to force enforcement.
The controversial bill, sponsored by state Sen. Larry Mumper (R., Marion), returns to the Senate, which is expected to rubber-stamp it and send it onto Governor Taft.
Although still opposed by environmental groups, the bill has gone through several changes since it passed the Senate last spring. It transfers oversight for massive livestock operations from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Agriculture and places the agency on a strict timetable to render decisions on permits.
State Rep. Jim Buchy (R., Greenville) said it takes an average of 212 days for the EPA to grant a permit for a megafarm operation. The new regulations give the agriculture department 90 days to decide whether to grant the farm such a permit.
“Farmers will know what is expected of them before they file a permit application,” he said. “As a result of extensive red tape that Ohio has developed concerning [large livestock operations], current facilities are not only not expanding, we have other facilities that would like to come to Ohio that are going to other states.”
The bill would require farms of 1,000 animal units to apply for two permits, one to install the facility and another to operate it. The latter permit would have to be renewed every five years.
All existing farms meeting the 1,000-unit threshold would be inspected by DAG within two years and then required to apply for an operating permit.
A 1,000-unit farm has the equivalent of 1,000 beef cattle, 700 dairy cattle, 2,500 hogs, 100,000 laying hens, or 55,000 turkeys. Currently 125 farms fit that description in Ohio.
The House passed the bill 82-10 with all northwestern Ohio lawmakers supporting it. The House rejected a proposed amendment empowering citizens who feel the state has failed in its obligation to regulate farms like Buckeye Egg to force the state's hand through litigation.
The bill still faces opposition from environmental groups which maintain that the Ohio EPA has improved its operations and is better-suited to regulate massive manure-producing facilities that might pose a danger to the state's waterways. The EPA will continue to have jurisdiction over other potential pollutants from agriculture operations.
The organizations maintain that agriculture department's past role of promoting state's agriculture will conflict with its new role regulating major farms.
“This is very much an emotional issue,” said state Rep. Rose Vesper (R., New Richmond). “It will take a while for them to see that this bill is going to be effective.”