While Democrat gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean was cheering “big meat’s” newest location at the Tyson Foods ground-breaking ceremony in Humboldt on Wednesday, his opponent State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), was busy trying to address concerns of his constituents in adjacent rural counties that may be negatively effected by Tyson’s new operation.
Dean proudly noted on his campaign’s Facebook page that he was hobnobbing with Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes at Wednesday’s event in Humboldt:
But on Wednesday, Fitzhugh, the Tennessee House Minority Leader, was busy pointing out the project’s flaws to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery.
In a letter obtained by The Tennessee Star (embedded below) dated May 30, 2018, signed by Fitzhugh, to Attorney General Herbert Slatery, Fitzhugh has asked for a “legal opinion with regard to the interpretation of state statutes concerning the authority of counties to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs].”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture defines a CAFO as “large-scale animal production facilities where many animals are raised or maintained, where feed is brought to the animals, and where wastes accumulate in a small area.”
Tyson Foods utilizes a vertically-integrated operation meaning they control every aspect of poultry production from growing the chicks to distributing the end product. Growing the chickens that end up in their slaughterhouses is accomplished through contracts with independent chicken farmers.
By Fitzhugh’s calculations, Tyson Foods’ expansion of its Union City plant and the new Humboldt slaughterhouse will result in “nearly 600 new chicken houses in a small geographic area” and his constituents are “concerned about the impact these CAFOs will have on the land and their rural quality of life.”
Both the Tennessee Departments of Agriculture and Environment & Conservation (TDEC) are involved when a CAFO is established because of the implications for water, land and air pollution. All CAFOs must obtain a Division of Water Resources permit.
CAFO regulations originally promulgated by the EPA were designed to protect or restore water quality that could be subject to degradation from discharges of animal waste that come into contact with a water supply.
States could either adopt the EPA CAFO regulations or develop their own. Tennessee chose to develop and implement its own CAFO regulations to better fit the state’s animal husbandry industry and water quality ratings.
Fitzhugh, who lives in rural Ripley, has represented a trio of rural West Tennessee counties in the state legislature since 1999. Based on the experience of other rural communities in other states, Fitzhugh’s letter to Attorney General Slatery could prove to be a preemptive strike against the potentially negative environmental impact from Tyson Foods expanding its operations in Tennessee.
Prior to the Haslam administration announcing Tyson’s decision to construct a new plant in Humboldt and to expand its operations in Union City, Haslam signed into law a bill allowing Tennessee to loosen its permitting standards for CAFOs and make them no stricter than what is required by federal law. The following year another law was passed that will allow chicken farmers contracting with Tyson to raise the poultry without having to obtain TDEC permits. Even though TDEC retains its authority to monitor, investigate and take action on water quality violations, without required permitting by TDEC, much of the chicken farming which is expected to expand in Tennessee, will operate with greatly reduced tracking and accountability.
What’s not clear, from the legislative changes is whether other provisions of state law that pertain to local zoning authority can be used to regulate the anticipated proliferation of chicken farms related to the Tyson Foods expansions – the very question Fitzhugh wants Tennessee’s Attorney General to answer.
Based on the TDEC Division of Water Resources withholding of a permit due to deficiencies in Tyson’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, Fitzhugh’s constituents in Crockett County may have legitimate concerns. One of the deficiencies noted in Tyson’s plan was misidentifying the Middle Fork Forked Deer River as a viable receiving body of water for its stormwater discharges. This river flows through Crockett County.
TDEC’s letter to Tyson states clearly that this particular river is on the list of “impaired and threatened waters” under the Clean Water Act and is subject to EPA approved “total maximum daily loads” for pollutants.
Repeated promises from Tyson Foods to do better in response to other cases involving environmental infractions, some of Tyson Foods’ environmental violations were revisited after one of its Missouri plants in 2014, released toxic chemicals into the city’s sewage system.
In 2007, Tyson’s Shelbyville plant was cited for discharging wastewater into the Duck River with ammonia levels greater than what the plant’s permit allowed.
In Maryland, Tyson Foods’ contribution to the estimated thousands of pounds of chicken manure that ended up in the Chesapeake Bay, resulted in the 2016 Democrat-backed bill referred to as The Poultry Litter Management Act. The bill sought to shift responsibility for disposal of excess chicken manure to the corporate entity instead of the contract farmer. The bill also sought to relieve the state of costs associated with transporting the manure for disposal.
During an April gubernatorial forum on rural Tennessee, Fitzhugh, “called for an even playing field for rural Tennesseans, saying, ‘I’m not too much worried about those in the skyscrapers. They’re going to do just fine. It’s those in the shadows of the skyscrapers that I worry about.’”
Tweeting from the future Tyson Foods Humboldt site, Fitzhugh’s urban opponent Karl Dean made his corporatist approach to rural Tennessee clear:
Had a chance to talk with
@TysonFoods CEO Tom Hayes about the investment they plan to make in the West Tennessee community including education. They will be a great partner in making sure we continue to have the workforce for good jobs.
Karl Dean, like GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd, is a named member of the big-business-cheap-labor lobby group the Partnership for a New American Economy.
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