Sierra Club asks attorney general to look into hog farm pollution

Tuesday, March 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club wants Attorney General Drew Edmondson to investigate state agriculture officials, claiming they have failed to enforce pollution laws regarding hog and chicken farms and have put the state's citizens at risk.

Chris Corbett, chair of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, sent Edmondson a letter Tuesday requesting that he "investigate and take appropriate action" against the Agriculture Department and members of the state Board of Agriculture, citing the group's own review of agriculture records and information from citizens and other groups.

``The Board and the DOA are not performing their duties, are allowing pollution from factory farms to proceed unabated, and are thereby endangering the health of Oklahoma's citizens and environment,'' the letter said.

State Agriculture Commissioner Dennis Howard angrily addressed Sierra Club officials after a press conference announcing their findings, saying the group has never approached the Agriculture Department about the problem. He called their request for an investigation ``very below-the-belt and very unfair.''

``I've been the commissioner of agriculture for seven years and the Sierra Club has never been in my office,'' he said. He gruffly introduced himself to Sierra Club officials and gave them the phone numbers of members of the state Board of Agriculture.

Sierra Club lobbyist Keith Smith said a study of Agriculture Department records shows that 65 percent of wells sampled by the Agriculture Department have above-normal levels of pollution, but that no action is shown to have been taken on the matter.

Smith also said the agency knew about 3,000 pigs that were left in an unlined pit and creek beds at a Cimarron Pork facility in Logan County, which was the subject of an investigation by federal environmental officials.

The Sierra Club also alleged that the Kronseder factory farm's lagoon in Woodward County has had as many as 1,000 violations in the past few years, and that another agency responded to the problem only after citizens complained.

Scott Dye, national agriculture coordinator for the Sierra Club, said Oklahoma has some of the better pollution laws regarding hog and chicken farms, but that the Agriculture Department has not properly enforced them.

``The end result is that the agency watches and takes notes while animal feces and urine continue to pour into Oklahoma's environment.''

He said the Department of Environmental Quality would be the more appropriate regulator of pollution at chicken and hog farms, since part of the Agriculture Department's job is to promote the farms.

``This is not a case of the fox guarding the chicken house, this is a case of the chicken guarding the fox den,'' he said.

Howard promised to respond to the allegations after studying them. He acknowledged that large corporate hog farms have caused problems in Oklahoma, but said the agency has done a good job enforcing the laws.

``If the Sierra Club would like the law stronger, they need to change it here at the Legislature,'' Howard said.

Gerald Adams, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said any evidence presented by the Sierra Club will be investigated, but said the need the need for direct legal action against individual Agriculture Board members has never been indicated.