Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Indiana, You're Screwed

Today I'd like to draw your attention to a nasty little bill working its way through the legislative process. Indiana's HB 1091 would guarantee payment of legal fees for any CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) or other agricultural complex found not guilty of a nuisance lawsuit.

HB 1091 is interesting for a number of reasons...

  • HB 1091 was authored by Majority Floor Leader Bill Friend (R), who is owner and operator of Friend Farms and President of Green Acres Ham LLC. Several years ago, he converted his swine production complex into a confined feeding operation (CAFO).
  • CAFOs dump animal manure into "lagoons". These lagoons release ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases into the air as the manure decomposes. The emission of these gases is commonly described as smelling like sulfur or rotten eggs.
  • People living near CAFOs often complain that the gas emissions cause headaches and other health problems. One of the few avenues of recourse available to such people is to (you guessed it) file a nuisance charge against the offending CAFO.
  • HB 1091 would provide CAFOs special protection under the law. It would take away the presiding judge's option of awarding legal fees to defendants found not guilty of such lawsuits and instead require that those fees be awarded. Agribusiness would become the only industry afforded this protection under Indiana law.
At best this bill seems like a conflict of interest, and an assault on free speech at its worst. CAFO operator/bill sponsor Bill Friend claims the legislation is intended to discourage frivolous lawsuits, which he claims are a major problem in his industry. Yet, when asked by Indiana's NUVO News Weekly, the fifth-generation farmer admitted he'd "had no problem with lawsuits". 

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