Veto squabbles make controversial Pa. farm bill’s future uncertain


SALEM, Ohio – Pennsylvania’s governor, Edward Rendell, vetoed a controversial bill Dec. 31 that would limit local government’s authority over farms. Or did he?

Rendell’s office maintains the veto stands, however Senate Republicans say the veto did not reach the correct office in time.

According to a spokesperson from Rendell’s office, the governor has not heard mention of the matter going to court.

If it’s decided the veto wasn’t received within the specified time limit, the bill will become law, and local governments will be held financially responsible for making laws more stringent than state rules.

Local power. Aside from the veto controversy, the bill also created a stir in the agricultural and environmental communities.

One of the bill’s opponents, PennFuture, argues the bill “strips local governments of all rights to protect citizens from the pollution caused by factory farms.”

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, however, says local governments’ ordinances are illegal because they go beyond state laws.

“Claims that the legislation removes or changes any existing rights by townships to regulate agriculture through zoning or other authority are just not true,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Guy Donaldson.

In addition, it would be impossible for farmers whose farms’ boundaries are in several townships, to operate under each of the individual ordinances.

According to the Farm Bureau, approximately 60 of Pennsylvania’s more than 1,450 townships have enacted these types of ordinances.

Try again. While the bills’ opponents applauded Rendell for blocking the legislation, the governor wrote in a veto statement he will approve the bill when “comprehensive” provisions are added.

This is fine with Pennsylvania Farmers Union, a staunch opponent of the bill as it was written.

Group spokesman Larry Breech called the bill a “desperate attempt to legitimize the factory farm invasion of Pennsylvania.”

However, he also said Rendell’s idea of a “comprehensive and progressive” way to deal with problems in agriculture is what the Farmers Union also supports.

Pushing for more. Some of the main points Breech said the Farmers Union is pushing to the commonwealth’s legislature are:

* Concentrated animal feeding organizations (CAFOs) or concentrated animal operations (CAOs) should not be allowed on land protected through the farmland preservation program.

* CAFOs and CAOs should have their own regulations.

* The Department of Transportation, Department of Health, Department of Insurance, and Department of Community and Economic Development should be involved in solving problems.

* A moratorium should be placed on animal sewage systems.

* Animal owners need to take full responsibility for their livestock.

* There should be odor and emission standards.

* Advanced composting systems are necessary.

* A right-to-know requirement should be added. Farmers would personally notify all neighbors as a common courtesy with their intent to build new facilities. This would also apply if someone was planning to sell their property for development.

* A small family farm advocate should be housed in the Department of Agriculture.

Legal costs. Rendell agreed with part of the bill that allowed farmers to recoup court costs from cases where the townships knowingly or recklessly violated state law when adopting an ordinance.

The bill would also require a farmer to pay court costs if his or her case against a township is also found to be frivolous.

Rendell cited that while he “supports fully the goals of the legislation,” other concerns need to be addressed, including a more comprehensive nutrient management plan and manure export loopholes.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

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