Sierra Club blows whistle on KDHE hog plan

State regulators working behind closed doors with three prominent Kansas agriculture organizations drafted new rules allowing confined animal operators opportunity to boost concentration of hogs without triggering laws mandating greater separation distances from surface water or nearby homes, churches and schools.

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May 26, 2021 - 8:04 AM

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment defends a proposed regulation the Sierra Club of Kansas believes could be used to increase density of hogs in large confined animal facilities. (2009 photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

TOPEKA — State regulators working behind closed doors with three prominent Kansas agriculture organizations drafted new rules allowing confined animal operators opportunity to boost concentration of hogs without triggering laws mandating greater separation distances from surface water or nearby homes, churches and schools.

The recommended policy stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and a subsequent 2019 court decision that went against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and prominent hog farmer Terry Nelson. The Sierra Club successfully challenged KDHE’s decision to help Nelson evade environmental setbacks in Phillips and Norton counties in northwest Kansas.

Nelson’s strategy, embraced by the Kansas Livestock Association, was to maneuver around barriers established in Kansas to preserve quality of life in rural communities amid concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. The idea was to divide an industrial-sized Nelson hog facility into limited-liability companies, secure separate operating permits from the state and raise more hogs on that site without having to move further away from protected surface water.

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