CHICAGO (AP) - Four new measures proposed in the Illinois Legislature would tighten the state's environmental protections on hog confinements and give local citizens more input in the permitting process as well as standing to challenge the massive facilities in court.
Critics say pork producers sometimes exploit weak laws to build and expand large hog confinements across rural Illinois, some of which hold thousands of pigs and produce millions of gallons of manure each year, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/2oiD2Iz) reported.
Farmers and others who live near the massive facilities say their rights have been trampled while waste poisons local streams and sickening gases ruin families' lives and property values.
"What is going on in our rural communities and to many of our farmers and farm families is wrong and unjust and we can do better than this for them," Fulton County farmer Craig Porter said. He described a frustrating effort to stop a proposed 20,000-head hog facility near his property.
The legislation, announced at a Tuesday news conference in Springfield, was proposed in response to an August investigation by the Tribune. The bills would represent the first significant reforms to the state's 1996 Livestock Management Facilities Act, which has been criticized for failing to keep up with the dramatic growth of swine confinements.
Farming and livestock groups tell The Associated Press the legislation places more regulatory burden on livestock farmers and is redundant.
"Unfortunately, the legislation introduced by Sen. Koehler does little to further enhance environmental protections," said Richard Guebert, Jr., president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, in a statement. Instead, the bills increase the level of burdensome regulation for livestock farms in Illinois, he said.
Illinois Pork Producers Association spokeswoman Jenny Jackson said the current state law provides a good balance between protecting the environment and permitting farmers to raise livestock.
"The answer isn't to place more regulatory burden on our livestock farmers," Jackson said. "The answer is increasing consumer education. As pig farmers, we set a high bar for ourselves to be good animal caretakers and stewards of the land. We need to work harder to tell consumers our story."
Democratic state Sen. David Koehler of Peoria, a sponsor of two of the bills, called the measures a "common-sense approach." He said the bills are modeled after laws in other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.
One bill would require all confinements to register with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The second bill would close a frequently used loophole in state law that allows new confinements to be built without a permit when they can be deemed an expansion of prior livestock operations.
The third bill would require that facilities to file waste management plans before they're constructed and to publicly disclose these plans if local residents and county officials request hearings on the proposed operations. The final bill would give neighbors the right to challenge the Agriculture Department in court if they believe mistakes were made in approving a construction permit.