A bill that environmentalists say would weaken Indiana's laws regulating Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, is being discussed in committee again this week.
The House Environmental Affairs Committee has taken testimony on HB 1494 by Rep. David Wolkins (R-Winona Lake). The bill would remove some of the regulations and permits required when existing facilities want to expand.
Kim Ferraro, an attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, says the bill would take away the public's right to comment. She says giant cattle, hog and poultry farms have massive manure pits that threaten public health.
"Oftentimes existing CAFOs will expand by double or triple, so it's essentially like having a brand new facility being built next to you, and we think it's critical for neighbors who are going to be impacted by that to have their voices heard," she states.
At a hearing last week, Wolkins amended his bill to clarify that anyone who wants to open a new CAFO would still have to seek a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).
Ferraro says E. coli is the number one polluter of Indiana's waterways.
"Their waste is collected in unlined earthen, football field-sized lagoons with millions and millions of gallons of livestock waste, and that waste is then spread untreated on surrounding properties," she points out.
Ferraro says the legislation also weakens disclosure rules by eliminating current law that says all owners must be listed on the permit application.
"So that would include the corporate entity itself as well as its officers, directors and senior management officials which is important so that IDEM and impacted citizens know who to accountable if there's harm down the road," she explains.
At last week's hearing Ferraro says the bill was last on the agenda, and public testimony was only taken for a few minutes, even though the hearing room was packed with people wanting to speak. Those who did testify told the committee Indiana's system for approving CAFOs is already too lax.