Arkansas AG meets with poultry farmers over Oklahoma dispute

Tuesday, January 17th 2006, 3:10 pm
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe met with northwest Arkansas poultry farmers Tuesday to discuss an Oklahoma dispute over chicken litter, but described the case as an "uphill battle" for the state.

"I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm also realistic," Beebe said. "I'd rather have people told the truth and prepared for all the consequences."

Beebe met with about 40 poultry farmers in Lincoln in the afternoon and 500 farmers Tuesday night at the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center in Fayetteville. Ten of the farmers in Fayetteville were from Oklahoma. Beebe singled them out for recognition.

Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit last June, after four years of failed negotiations, alleging that Arkansas poultry companies are legally responsible for pollution of the Illinois River watershed. Oklahoma's lawsuit argues that state and federal laws are being violated by improper poultry waste disposal practices.

Beebe has asked the nation's highest court for permission to sue Oklahoma, arguing the two states should settle the matter under the Arkansas River Basin Compact.

Tuesday, Beebe said the lawsuit would have a "catastrophic" effect on his state's $2 billion poultry industry.

"So much of the economy here is based on agriculture," Beebe said. "It's much wider than merely the farmers themselves."

Jim Griffin, a Siloam Springs poultry farmer who met with Beebe, said farmers have a personal stake in the proper management of the watershed.

"We're out there on the land every day," Griffin said. "We wouldn't do anything to hurt our land. We've got to make a living off of that land."

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson argued in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court that his state's legal fight is with poultry companies and not the state of Arkansas.

Edmondson argued that Arkansas' proposed lawsuit is an attempt by the state to shield private companies from being held liable for pollution.

Beebe said the meeting with the farmers demonstrates the case is not about major poultry companies, but the rights of smaller farmers who would be affected by the lawsuit.

"They don't have a voice," Beebe said. "The poultry industry has got their own lawyers."