Property Owners and Poultry Pollution
A bill that would make it harder for rural communities to address issues with nearby poultry operations has flown through the House, and is currently being taken up in the Senate. H.3929‘s most problematic component is its attempt to limit standing to property owners within a 1 mile radius of the poultry facility in question. Not only is this number lacking in justification, it is certainly not a reflection of who may be adversely affected by farming operations.
If passed, this bill will increase land use disputes and divide rural communities.
- The bill takes away the rights of neighbors to participate in the public decision-making process unless they live within 1 mile of the proposed poultry facility.
- By defining “affected person” as a property owner with standing within a one-mile radius of the proposed building footprint or permitted poultry facility, it would prevent third party organizations from participating in the permitting process on behalf of its members.
- It would strip DHEC of the ability to consider site-specific conditions when establishing separation distances between poultry operations and nearby properties, neighbors, and waterbodies.
While it is perfectly appropriate for the courts to include distance in their assessment of whether a plaintiff has established standing, it should not be the sole determinant and should be reviewed in conjunction with other factors by the courts themselves. Standing is a highly fact specific inquiry and cannot be adequately evaluated by a radius requirement.
The courts have recognized that organizations do have standing to challenge government action on behalf of their members. Often individuals do not have the resources to mount legal challenges to permits, even though they have suffered harm. H. 3929 would force citizens to challenge permits on their own, a move that only benefits poultry facilities by reducing the likelihood that they will be held accountable regardless of their impacts.
This bill states that if specified setback distances are met, DHEC cannot increase those setback distances, regardless of the characteristics of the proposed operation, nearby residential uses, important or impaired waterbodies or other factors. This would result in the minimum setback distances being fixed — removing discretionary authority from DHEC.
While the bill has improved through the work of the House Agriculture Committee, there are still major issues. It should be amended to encourage good neighbor relationships, involving the public from the early stages of the permitting process and fostering thoughtful stewardship of the communities in which these operations exist.