So meet your new neighbors — 8,000 fat, smelly hogs moving in down the road.
Thousands of Hoosiers have endured that nightmare scenario, or something similar, in recent years as farms that house thousands of hogs or millions of chickens have become increasingly common.
The number of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) has exploded in the past decade in Indiana for two major reasons. First, farmers in many cases have had to go huge, or get out of the business. And second, the state has aggressively courted CAFO operators as a means of economic development in hard-pressed rural areas that often appear to have few good other options.
But the growth has come with costs and concerns. Neighbors and rural communities frequently raise objections about CAFOs’ effects on water and air quality, and the overall quality of life.
Of those issues, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management acknowledges that it monitors only water quality. The agency doesn’t address concerns about odors emitted from enormous barns filled with livestock, or the traffic generated by trucks transporting thousands of hogs or other animals, or the effect on neighbors’ property values.
Those neighbors already don’t have many protections from unsightly businesses operating nearby. And it may soon get much worse.
Under Senate Bill 249, authored by state Sen. Jean Leising, local governments would not be allowed to block CAFOs from building new barns as long as the operations complied with state law and met agricultural zoning requirements.
The General Assembly, through “right to farm” legislation passed last year, already has made it more difficult for local governments to stop CAFOs from setting up shop or expanding. And property owners also face more obstacles in trying to seek relief in court from smelly, loud or otherwise unneighborly farming operations.
Leising’s proposal also is troublesome from a philosophical standpoint. The trend in recent years — from regulating hog farms to passing gun laws — has been for the General Assembly to chip away at local control. Why should 150 legislators in the Statehouse take away the ability of local elected leaders to make decisions about what is best for their communities?
SB 249 deserves to be scrapped. And beyond that state legislators need to rethink their approach to restrictions on how local governments are allowed to meet their residents’ needs.