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Wallowing in the waste: poultry producers pummel Clinton on disposal plans, but problems still persist.

Arkansas' multi-billion dollar poultry industry, determined to keep state government out of its business, has defeated the Clinton administration's bid to curb water pollution by regulating the disposal of chicken litter.

It was no narrow defeat by industry. It was, in fact, a rout.

Even so, industry's win -- or Gov. Clinton's loss -- has gone virtually unnoticed by the media, which became fixated on a magazine article of old water pollution facts that state Game & Fish Commission chiefs chose not to print in the heat of war.

The state does not issue permits for poultry growers as it has for some time for hog farms. But with major national newspapers such as The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times publishing stories about streams polluted with animal waste in the Democratic presidential nominee's state, the heat has been on to get some rules on the books.

The climactic battle came July 9 when Clinton's industry-dominated Animal Waste Task Force, in a Capitol committee room crammed with irate Farm Bureau members, shot down a proposal under which the state could have sued a poultry company and a grower if the latter didn't have a waste disposal plan for his farm and was believed to be polluting waters.

The Farm Bureau had convinced rice growers, cattlemen, hog farmers and others that the proposal would affect all of agriculture, and they turned out to blast the proposal, too.

Only one task force member -- Wildlife Federation representative R.A. "Bob" Apple of Dardanelle -- voted against tabling the plan.

The proposal came from Randy Young, director of the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission and the task force chairman.

The rout was led by industry's point man in the House, task force member and Rep. Lloyd George of Danville, who roared he was "sick and tired" of national politics affecting Arkansas farmers and painting an untrue picture of state waters.

Young said he got the idea for the so-called "third-party beneficiary" proposal from George in a private conversation. But George says he doesn't recall it and denies having "set up" anyone.

Earlier, Young's agency and the Pollution Control & Ecology Department had proposed a plan with a so-called "bad-actor provision" under which a grower who didn't implement a waste management plan within five years and was caught polluting could be fined by PC&E.

Industry nixed this, too, even though George had said the plan "would work; we'll make it work."

Young's staff is now preparing a third draft of a chicken litter program to put before the task force Sept. 9.

Deadline Has Arrived

Tired of a task force obviously dragging its feet, Clinton told the group in May 1991 -- four months before he announced his candidacy for president -- he wanted its legislative recommendations on his desk by September 1992. Young is striving to meet the deadline but admits it will be "tight"

The recommendations Clinton gets may call for increased spending for PC&E stream monitoring and more technical assistance for growers but will not propose any regulations, because industry has made it clear it won't accept anything but a voluntary program.

Even without the task force's recommendation, monitoring and more technical assistance will be reflected in agency budget requests to the 1993 General Assembly, says Ken Smith, who has been in the thick of the fray as Clinton's natural resources aide.

"We're still looking for the right handle on state oversight, but Randall may be right -- we may already have it," Smith says.

He was referring to PC&E Director Randall Mathis, who contends his agency has all the authority it needs under existing state law to crack down on farmers who let wastes pollute surface and ground waters.

A grower who piles chicken litter on a stream bank or tosses dead birds in a creek will be relatively easy to catch. But how could PC&E ever prove bacteria, nitrates and phosphorus -- invisible to the naked eye -- came from a particular farm?

It will be natural, Smith explains, for PC&E to focus its enforcement attention on those growers who don't have waste management plans and aren't using what the federal Soil Conservation Service says are "best management practices" to dispose of litter.

Smith is an optimist by nature, and he also is paid to put the best "spin" possible on situations for the governor.

"Even though we got beat up pretty bad July 9," he says, "I think industry is coming around, and I think we're going to come out of this with an effective program."

There is some evidence to support Smith's view that industry is "coming around."

Conservation districts in a few counties are spearheading voluntary demonstration programs. In Pope County, 116 of 130 growers are participating, and Smith says it's working "better than I ever thought it would."

Industry's New Rules

In addition, after winning the war against regulating chicken litter, industry released the hostage it had been holding -- a set of new and stronger rules for the disposal of liquid animal wastes from hog farms.

The Farm Bureau/Poultry Federation had used its clout with lawmakers to hold up legislative approval of the rules. For example, the Joint Interim Committee on Agriculture and Economic Development heard three hours of testimony on the rules July 7, then sent them to the Legislative Council with no recommendations.

Sen. Joe Yates of Bentonville, the Poultry Federation's industry relations manager, subsequently released the rules, telling Mathis that PC&E could adopt them because the Legislative Council didn't meet in July.

There's evidence, too, that Tyson Foods, the biggest of the lot, is "coming around."

Poultry carcasses left to rot in fields or tossed in pits and sludge from processing plants spread on land are other sources of potential, and perhaps real, water pollution.

Tyson has expanded its River Valley By-Products rendering plant near Scranton in northern Logan County. Now, sludge from Tyson's 13 Arkansas processing plants is being hauled in tanker trucks to the plant and used in making 250,000 pounds of chicken feed a day instead of being applied to land, Tyson Public Affairs Director Archie Schaffer III told state Livestock & Poultry Commission members who toured the facility Aug. 13.

Schaffer and Dr. Bob Good, Tyson's director of live production, also say the firm will provide on-farm freezers for poultry carcasses to most of its 2,800 Arkansas growers within two years. Schaffer says Tyson is the only poultry company doing this.

Because rumors to the contrary are rampant, Schaffer emphasizes that Tyson will not force freezers on about 100 growers who recently installed composters for carcasses under cost-sharing arrangements with the federal government.

He says the composters and the freezers are equally good for keeping carcasses from contaminating the environment.

Tyson has been experimenting with eight on-farm freezers spotted around western Arkansas for about a year, Schaffer says, and the company has 50 more on order.

Good, who also is a Livestock & Poultry Commission member, says Tyson will provide the freezers, costing about $3,000 each. The grower will have to prepare the site for the machine and pay for the electricity.

Freezers Have Their Fans

Before seeing the rendering plant, commission members visited Tyson grower "Skeet" Grenwelge of Scranton, who has had a freezer for a year. His electricity has averaged about 75 cents a day, though he says it recently dropped to 57 cents a day.

"I like it," Grenwelge says. He says it takes him 30 minutes a day to turn the compost but only 30 seconds to put dead birds in the freezer.

"I don't have the time; I need that 30 minutes. If I had the alternative, I'd go this route," he says.

Grenwelge's freezer, which can hold up to 4,500 birds, is emptied periodically. He usually takes the frozen carcasses to the nearby rendering plant, though sometimes they are picked up by the same Tyson truck that hauls his live chickens to a processing plant.

Good and Schaffer say Tyson does not expect to make a profit from the carcasses.

"At best it will be break-even, cover the cost of transportation," Schaffer says. "We regard it as a cost of doing business -- like the $5 million wastewater treatment plant we're putting in at Hope."

After the tour, the Livestock & Poultry Commission met and formally amended its regulations to include freezing as an acceptable carcass disposal method.

In May, the commission had used its emergency powers to ban the digging of any new carcass disposal pits after July 1 because freezing was now an alternative.

The ban had to be rescinded in July, however, when Chuck Cremeen, the lawyer who heads Arkansans for Environmental Reform, pointed out that state law specifically allows pits to be used and the commission couldn't repeal a law with a regulation.

The commission will ask the 1993 Legislature to repeal the pits law.

It's a move that will play into the hands of the new Arkansas Contract Growers Association headed by Frank Corley of Nashville.

Corley is working hard to establish an alliance with environmentalists on grounds the two can help each other. His group doesn't want the companies to put any more expense or responsibility on the backs of growers.

He and Cremeen argue that the companies never give up title to the chicks delivered to growers to raise; therefore, they own the dead birds and the litter, and it's their job to take care of it.

The Principal Problem

Schaffer says most farmers want even more litter than they have for their fields. Good says there may be a legal question about who owns the litter only in those few instances where the company rather than the grower provides the rice hulls and wood shavings.

Good says Tyson will give more money to growers in the next round of contracts. Even so, he reveals that a few growers -- apparently some in Corley's group -- already have told Tyson they're not renewing.

Consumer demand is so great that Tyson is having to tap competitors to supply chickens, indicating the market may give growers a bargaining tool they haven't had before.

Getting carcasses and sludge out of the pollution equation could focus even more attention on the principal problem -- the manure-laden rice hulls and wood shavings periodically removed from chicken house floors and spread on fields as fertilizer.

Industry officials told state legislators in early July they planned an "environmental addendum" for their contracts with poultry growers.

Growers signing it would be pledged to use "best management practices" in storing and spreading litter.

Good confirms a report by PC&E's Mathis that industry is now "backing off" calling the document an "addendum," because this suggests it is part of the contract. Tyson now calls it a "letter of agreement," and Good says about 90 percent of the company's growers have signed one.

The 10 percent who have refused to sign the letter are still receiving chicks to grow for Tyson, however.

"Upper management" will have to decide, probably in about two months, whether the recalcitrants will continue to have contracts and receive chicks, Good says.

Then Smith will really know to what degree industry is "coming around."
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Title Annotation:Bill Clinton
Author:Griffee, Carol
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 31, 1992
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