ODA may soon have authority over livestock permits

SALEM, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Agriculture may be one step closer to being the state’s livestock permitting authority, thanks to a bill passed last week by the legislature.

In addition, the bill, which awaits Gov. Bob Taft’s signature, redefines farms as small, medium or large, casting aside animal unit designations.

Taft has not taken a position on Senate Bill 152, according to his spokesman Orest Holubec.

Permission. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published new livestock rules this spring, Ohio law had to be updated to match federal law, according to Deb Abbott, spokeswoman for ODA’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program.

The pending bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, makes these updates.

With state and federal laws mirroring each other, the state department of agriculture can ask the U.S. EPA for the authority to issue federal permits.

ODA became the official state agency for issuing state permits following a similar bill finalized last summer. These state permits include permits to operate and permits to install.

Easier process. Although farmers can now apply for these state permits through ODA, they have to look elsewhere for federal permits.

For example, to apply for the newly required federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, farmers must apply through Ohio EPA.

With the passage of S.B. 152, the state department can ask for authority to issue these permits.

“It sets the stage for one-stop shopping,” Abbott said. Farmers will only have to deal with one agency for their permits, making the process easier for them, she said.

Ohio EPA will still have control of water quality issues, Abbott said, however it will no longer have permitting authority over farms.

Terminology. The pending bill will also change the terminology used to determine farm size.

Rather than classify farms based on animal units, a simple head count will be used. Depending on the number of animals, farms will be classified as either small, medium or large.

This is being updated to match the U.S. EPA’s changes in terminology, which are already in use.

Operations with 700 or more dairy cows, 1,000 or more beef cattle or 2,500 hogs weighing more than 55 pounds are considered large.

Quick provision. In addition, a controversial amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Larry Mumper would prevent local government from regulating farms.

Mumper stresses the provision does not take away local authority.

Under the amendment, local government has no say in the permitting process, however this is nothing new, Mumper said. Local governments never had the ability to deny or authorize permits.

Ohio Environmental Council argues otherwise, calling the provision “a stealth amendment added late to this otherwise routine bill.”

It maintains that the bill “would strip local governments’ ability to require licenses, permits or other approval aimed at controlling manure, insects, rodents or odor prior to constructing a factory farm.”

Sen. Mumper said local health departments can still investigate reported health issues and local governments can still look into road conditions and give their input.

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