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As an organization that has been working to solve the pollution crisis caused by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Illinois for years, we applaud the Chicago Tribune’s recent in-depth investigative report on large hog confinements.

Few could read this piece without gasping at the stories of environmental pollution, animal abuse, and destruction of rural life and property rights. Fortunately, our Governor and state legislators can fix many of these issues with common sense approaches, and they should start today.

First, Governor Rauner and the Illinois EPA (IEPA) could immediately propose and seek to pass rules that require registration of all livestock operations. As reported, there is no way in Illinois to even tell where these facilities are located. The IEPA could also – under existing laws – begin requiring water protection permits (NPDES permits) from more CAFOs.

In addition, legislation and regulations should be enacted to require all large CAFOs to obtain NPDES permits or equivalent state operating permits that go beyond the minimum standards set by federal law to protect Illinois waters.

Further, there are a minimum number of legislative fixes the legislature should consider to address the problems under Illinois’ livestock facility siting law, which is administered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA):

  1. Close the expansion loophole. Under the current law, operators are able to greatly expand their facilities without going through a public hearing process or following certain environmental regulations.
  2. Allow county boards to convene meaningful hearings and control siting of CAFOs. Many county boards have voted to deny CAFO applications, only to see the site approved by IDOA and the operation built without regard to community input.
  3. Give neighbors and impacted citizens standing to challenge and appeal IDOA permitting decisions that do not meet regulatory standards. There is currently no oversight over permits issued by the Department. At most, agriculture officials can send an application back with questions.
  4. Create siting setbacks between large confinement facilities and surface waters – especially drinking water sources – and increase setbacks from homes and towns. Many neighbors living near these operations describe headaches, respiratory issues and in one case, spontaneous vomiting due to the foul air they are forced to breathe.
  5. Require waste management plans with spill control and a prevention plans to be submitted to IDOA with all new and expanding livestock facility siting applications. These plans should be subject to review and approval by the Department prior to a permit being issued, and also made available to the public during the county board public input process.

In the Tribune’s report, an IDOA official directed aggrieved neighbors living by CAFOs to contact their state legislators if they thought there was a problem; we echo that advice and call on all residents of Illinois to support our neighbors and to protect our state by telling their state legislators: reform this law today.

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