Rollin' Down the River
Residents get day in court for poultry water pollution
By Alex De Grand

One woman complained the 16-house poultry operation downstream from her home in McLean County gives off a stench and attracts flies and mice that intrude on her daily life.

A man noted his wife has developed a respiratory problem since a farm with about 288,000 chickens opened less than a mile from his home in Fulton County.

Another Fulton County resident worries the chicken farm is destroying the value of his properties, threatening his retirement income.

Several other neighbors of Kentucky's "factory farms" report counts of fecal coliform that exceed the state water quality standards.

Stories from people like these are part of what the Sierra Club plans to bring to the defense of the state's new rules governing "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs).

On August 29, Franklin Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden granted the Sierra Club's request to join the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet in beating back a challenge to the regulations brought by the Kentucky Farm Bureau and a number of commodity groups and farms.

"The filings by the Cabinet so far have been legal arguments without connection to real people," said Hank Graddy, a Midway attorney who serves as counsel for the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club and chairs the Sierra Club's national campaign against CAFOs.

Testimonials of "real people" suffering the environmental impact of giant farms could offset the personal stories marshaled by the Farm Bureau that paint a picture of farmers who face financial ruin if the state regulations inadvertently prevent them from contracting.

But aside from that kind of tactical support, Graddy confessed in court records that the environmental group worries the state might lose its nerve and back off from its aggressive stance.

"The Cabinet is a governmental bureaucracy and is capable of changing positions with the political winds," Graddy wrote to the court.

The Sierra Club's entry into the lawsuit was not welcomed by the Farm Bureau and its fellow plaintiffs. Mark Overstreet, an attorney representing the farm groups, complained the Sierra Club - with its collection of testimonials - threatens to change the subject of the lawsuit.

Overstreet reminded the court the farm groups' lawsuit is about whether the state cabinet exceeded its authority carrying out clean water laws when it issued these regulations. He warned against letting the Sierra Club hijack their case.

"It's our complaint; we drafted it; we get to keep it," Overstreet said.

Graddy countered that if the Sierra Club can present evidence of environmental injury, "it sets the stage for the authority [of the state] to respond."

The dispute between the state and the farm groups largely centers around efforts to impose liability on the companies that contract with farmers for production of livestock.

Under many contracts, a company like Perdue retains ownership of the animals and dictates how the animals are fed, housed and raised.

The state argues if a company exerts that much control, it should shoulder some of the responsibility if there is an environmental problem.

Generally, the state rules are aimed only at the largest animal feeding operations that have more than 1,000 cattle, 700 dairy cattle, 2,500 pigs or 100,000 chickens.

But critics complain the state's rules will scare away these companies to states that don't ask so much of them and Kentucky farmers will lose an economic opportunity when many need an alternative to tobacco.

Opponents to the regulations scored a victory August 24 when the General Assembly's agriculture and natural resources committee voted to find the rules outside of legislative intent. An administrative regulation panel of the legislature had already drawn a similar conclusion.

State Sen. Ernie Harris, chairman of the agriculture and natural resources committee, said legislators were concerned about economic harm to farmers if Kentucky gets too far ahead of what other states are doing to regulate CAFOs.

Harris, who said he doesn't have any CAFOs in his district, pointed to mistakes made when Kentucky took the lead on health insurance reform.

Gov. Paul Patton has insisted on going forward with the rules despite objections from legislators. The rules will last until the end of the next legislative session.

When the legislature is in session, it will have an opportunity to write its own rules. However, the General Assembly was not able to agree on CAFO regulations in the 2000 session and Harris said it is too early to tell if it will be any different in 2002.

In the meantime, farm groups will fight the state rules with their lawsuit.

Overstreet said the negative verdicts reached by the two legislative committees will help bolster the lawsuit against the state.

But Graddy is not concerned, characterizing the legislators' action as "political" and not based on sound analysis of the regulations.

"Legislatures generally don't write regulations," Graddy said. "They don't get into those details; the executive branch does that. That's the difference between laws and regulations.

"Legislators don't know how the Clean Water Act works; they just know they want clean water," he continued.

"Asking them to review the regulations based on the specific requirements of the Clean Water Act is to ask the wrong body," Graddy said.

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 Ext. 232 or


Goldilocks and the Four Parties

Maybe the Ernie Fletcher porridge is too cold and conservative, maybe the Scotty Baesler porridge is too lukewarm and middle-of-the-road, and maybe the Gatewood Galbraith porridge is too unorthodox to even dare taste. Rest easy, Goldilocks. There's always another cup to sample: The Libertarian Party is running Joseph Novak for the sixth district congressional seat.

The Libertarian Party calls for an end to all government interference in people's lives. Its literature calls for privatization of Social Security, ending the drug war and cutting off welfare (both for poor people and corporations). - ADG

And speaking of choices...

After turning in thousands of signatures more than required, the Secretary of State's office confirmed the Kentucky Green Party has successfully placed its presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, on the ballot. Nader, a consumer rights activist, selected Winona LaDuke to be his vice presidential candidate. LaDuke, a Harvard grad, is an activist and author for Native American issues.

Are third parties a wasted vote like everyone tied up with the two parties insist? The Greens like to point out the Republican Party started out as a third party so draw your own conclusions. - ADG

You've got to fight for your right

Put some labor into your Labor Day: Get out to Triangle Park (at the corner of Broadway and Main Street) 10 a.m. September 4 for a Living Wage Rally and Interfaith Prayer Service.

Among the notables scheduled to appear are the Rev. Louis Coleman, state Rep. Kathy Stein and David Sams, a Lexington sanitation worker pushing the city to improve wages and working conditions for the solid waste department employees.

Sponsors of this event include the Bluegrass Central Labor Council, the Central KY Council for Peace & Justice, the Lexington Catholic Diocese Council for Peace & Justice and the Lexington Living Wage Campaign. - ADG