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Colorado legislature not following the will of the people

DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) is deeply concerned about the passage of Senate Bill 114 by the Colorado Senate today. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, changes language in Amendment 14 passed by the voters in 1998. SB114 allows commercial swine feeding operations to use alternative methods as opposed to covers in dealing with odor emissions from lagoon pits and to self report to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment whether or not those methods are as effective.

“Does the Colorado legislature have the right to change the will of the people?” asked RMFU President John Stencel. “The changes proposed in SB114 are simply an effort to make it easier for the swine operations to come into compliance with the current law, while weakening the intent of the law to reduce odors.”

RMFU has raised serious questions about whether or not the commercial swine feeding operations have been in compliance with the law since the passage of Amendment 14. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does not have the staff or resources to regulate air quality issues related to the hog operations. The department primarily contracts with local county officials to follow up on complaints filed by neighbors of the facilities. “If you make a complaint during non-business hours it is unlikely the local official will follow up until after the odor has dissipated,” said RMFU board member Elwin Poe, Holyoke, Colo. “I am concerned that with no penalty fines for violating the current regulations, enforcement doesn’t really happen. A lack of funding has made enforcement almost impossible to uphold.”

RMFU and its members testified in front of the Senate Agricultural Committee, Feb. 2, stating the health department does not allow enforcement to be tracked by anyone but individuals approved by the health department. Citizens independently licensed to monitor air quality around the hog operations are unable to file reports with the health department.

SB114 allows for the language in Amendment 14 dealing with covers to make it easier for the swine operations to come into compliance with the law. The bill allows for alternative methods to be used in controlling odor from the lagoons. RMFU questions whether or not this meets the intent of the voters. There has not been an extensive study done to discover the effectiveness of synthetic covers that are specified by current department rules and in most cases have not been used at all.

“My concerns with the proposed changes to the language in Amendment 14 are that it appears to diminish requirements that are stated in the present statute,” said Poe. “Any proposed changes should strengthen the regulations and not weaken them.”

RMFU believes any proposed changes should strengthen the existing language, making it more reflective of the current rules overseen by the Department of Health.

“Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s policy on swine feeding operations requests ‘that the state legislature and state regulatory agencies vote to uphold the will of the people of Colorado and not change any aspect of Amendment 14,’”said Stencel. “I do not believe the legislature is abiding by the people within what is being proposed by SB114.”