Pennsylvania local officials demand right to
regulate factory farms

Township supervisors oppose pending “factory farm bill”

By Greg Bowman, New Farm® editor

Chambersburg PA (October 23) – The Centre County Association of Township Officials recently adopted a county-wide resolution declaring that it opposes “any State efforts to remove” the power to regulate factory farms from township governments. The resolution was adopted in response to the Pennsylvania House’s consideration of Senate Bill 1413, which they believe would strip local governments of the power to regulate and control factory farm operations.

The association’s action was forwarded as a formal resolution to the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), to be voted on at their 2003 State Convention.

In full, the resolution reads that the Centre County Association urges PSATS to “support the power of Township governments to adopt ordinances that regulate factory farms (also called concentrated animal feeding operations) and oppose any State efforts to remove that power from Township government.”

In adopting the resolution, the Centre County Association of Township Officials became one of five County Associations that has taken a stance on Senate Bill 1413, and in support of local control over factory farms and land applied sewage sludge.

In the eyes of its opponents, Senate Bill 1413 seeks to strip away the powers of municipal governments to regulate and control livestock factory farms and to regulate and control the land application of sewage sludge in the state. Known informally to its detractors as the “factory farm bill,” this legislation is supported by agribusiness interests seeking to remove any local control over factory farm operations.

Proponents deny any attempt to steamroll contract agriculture facilities into rural counties. They say they merely seek a uniform, state-wide policy that discourages “frivolous” lawsuits against legally regulated and permitted “advanced agriculture” operations. Advocates for the new legislation say it will allow reasonable expansion of confinement hog farrowing and/or finishing units. These are said to extend options for farmers who want to diversify their farming operations with the support of a tightly integrated mix of firms providing feed, supplies, markets and processing for the hogs produced.

Senate Bill 1413 prohibits municipal governments from adopting any Ordinances that would affect “agricultural operations” – declaring all such Ordinances to be “frivolous” – and the Bill seeks to punish municipal officials with the payment of attorneys’ fees to the agribusiness and sludge corporations that will sue the municipality.

SB 1413 is a renumbered and reintroduced version of SB 826, which failed to move out of the Senate Agriculture Committee due to intense opposition from municipal officials, farmers, and community leaders across the state. The primary sponsor of both Bills is Senator Roger Madigan (R-Bradford). His district includes the Nippenose Valley, where two proposed advanced ag hog facilities are facing stiff opposition from the rural residents due to the fragile subterranean formations of the area. (See the related Nippenose Valley story.)

In addition, the parents of a child who died in Berks County after being exposed to sewage sludge have filed a lawsuit against the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee for violating the state’s Sunshine Act by holding a Committee meeting in the back of the House voting Chamber in their haste to refer the Bill to the House.

Several newspapers across the Commonwealth have declared their opposition to the Bill and have urged House members to vote against the Bill, regardless of any amendments offered to the legislation. They include the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Clarion News, the Sharon Herald, and the Centre Daily Times. At least one newspaper has called the legislation an “affront to the concept of self-governance.”

A coalition of statewide organizations has arisen to oppose the legislation. Groups within the coalition include the Pennsylvania Farmers Union (PFU), the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the Sierra Club, Citizens’ for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), the Pennsylvania Environmental Network (PEN), the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), and the Quality of Life and Local Control Caucus of Township Supervisors. Caucus coordinator is attorney Thomas Linzey of Chambersburg, Pa., who also heads the CELDF. His phone number is (717) 709-0457.

All of the groups within the coalition are urging legislators to vote against Senate Bill 1413 – in any form – and to protect and preserve the rights of municipal governments and communities to regulate factory farms and land applied sewage sludge. Many commentators have noted that the passage of this Bill may open the window for additional attempts by special interests to continue to strip away local control and community rights to self-determination, Linzey said.