One of the most controversial environmental cases in modern Arkansas history just produced a new twist. On January 10, 2018, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (“ADEQ”) denied a new permit to the concentrated animal feeding operation owned by C&H Hog Farms (“C&H”) in Newton County, Arkansas. This development comes as a big surprise. ADEQ initially granted C&H a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFO”) permit and a Regulation 6 Waste Discharge Permit in 2012 to run its swine operation adjacent to Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo National River.
The pig farm, a large agricultural facility, has been controversial since its inception due to concerns about waste management from the facility within the Buffalo River watershed. After public reaction to ADEQ's grant of the permits in 2012, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission issued a temporary moratorium on new medium or large CAFOs within the Buffalo River watershed. In December 2014, Judge D. Price Marshall of the Eastern District of Arkansas ruled that two federal agencies who guaranteed loan requests for the CAFO had violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), ordering an intra-agency NEPA review. After a 2015 electrical resistivity imaging survey indicated the potential for vertical leakage from C&H's waste storage ponds, ADEQ opted to conduct well sampling at the facility from a single well. During the lifetime of C&H's original permits (2012 to 2016), ADEQ announced that it would cease issuing large CAFO permits under its Regulation 6 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.
With the discontinuance of the Regulation 6 permit, C&H opted to apply for a Regulation 5 Liquid Animal Waste Management Systems permit in 2016, which ADEQ denied. ADEQ produced a statement of basis for denied of the permit and responded to all comments submitted during the public comment period, all of which can be view on the ADEQ website (Permit No. 5264-W; AFIN 51-00164). ADEQ declined to issue the permit "after determining that the record lacks necessary and critical information to support granting of the permit." According to ADEQ, C&H's application record failed to include "the requisite geological, geotechnical, groundwater, soils, structural, and testing information specified in Reg. 5.402." C&H can appeal ADEQ’s decision to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission by February 9, 2018. Any decision by the Commission is appealable to an Arkansas court.