Moving to ease tensions between Pennsylvania farmers and foes of “factory farms,” the Rendell administration recently proposed new restrictions on livestock operations while emphasizing compromise over confrontation when disputes flare up. The far-reaching plan, which requires legislative approval, would couple new water-quality and odor standards for livestock facilities with a proposed Agriculture Review Board that would try to mediate disputes involving local governments, farmers and residents.
“This initiative is a win-win approach for farmers and municipalities, instead of forcing the two sides to square off against each other in lawsuits,” said the state’s Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, who unveiled the plan with state Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff.
The bill would replace vetoed legislation that would have limited the authority of local governments to regulate farming. Gov. Ed Rendell rejected that bill in December 2003, prompting a Commonwealth Court lawsuit from Republican legislators—who contend the veto is invalid on technical grounds—that is still pending.
The initiative—called ACRE for Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment—would require new or expanding livestock operations and manure-importing farms to conform to stronger water-quality requirements and implement management practices that reduce the associated odor.
The state would be one of the first in the nation to require odor mitigation if the proposal is approved. The five-member review board would scrutinize local ordinances to determine if they “unreasonably” interfere with agriculture, Wolff said, and attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. If that is impossible, the board would be empowered to impose a decision, which could be appealed to Commonwealth Court. The board would comprise three members of the governor’s cabinet—the secretaries of Agriculture; Environmental Protection; and Community and Economic Development—along with the dean of Penn State University’s School of Agricultural Sciences and a fifth member appointed by the governor.
As much as $13 million in new and existing state funding would be earmarked for the initiative.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which had supported the vetoed bill and worked with the administration in shaping the latest proposal, said it hopes lawmakers will swiftly approve the plan after they reconvene in September.
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, which has worked to place limits on large-scale livestock operations, said it welcomes the proposed restrictions on odors but said they also should be extended to the spreading of manure as fertilizer. Overall, it called the plan a positive “first step.”