Hog Waste Pits Sierra Club vs. Mu Ozark Chapter Accuses 6 Officials of Lobbying against Clean Water Rules

Article excerpt

An environmental group has accused six officials of the University of Missouri's College of Agriculture of illegally supporting large hog-growing operations at the expense of clean water regulations.

The Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a complaint Thursday with the university's Board of Curators. The complaint alleges that officials used their university positions to lobby for private companies against tougher clean water regulations. The complaint said the officials' actions violated academic ethics and standards, and betrayed the public trust.

"Those people stepped way over the line," said Ken Midkiff, the chapter's program director.

The essence of the Sierra Club's complaint is that university officials have no business working on behalf of factorylike hog-producing companies that endanger the watershed and other aspects of the environment. While university extension service officials often help farmers increase yields of grain and growth of livestock, they should not offer advice that will undercut state and federal environmental laws.

The complaint states: "We do know it is illegal to use public funds for private purposes."

The six officials named in the complaint work in the agriculture school's extension division or in its commercial agriculture program. Earlier this year, five of the six testified against some clean water regulations that had been proposed by the staff of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The sixth person named in the complaint is Rex Ricketts, coordinator for the commercial agriculture program. The complaint said Ricketts coordinated the opposition to the rules through a newly formed organization called the Missouri Agricultural Alliance. The group is made up of poultry, beef and pork producers and the state Department of Agriculture.

In a telephone interview, Ricketts said he served as a "convener" for the alliance.

"They asked that we bring the group together and provide information at their request," Ricketts said. "We did the same thing for them as we do with any other producer group."

Many of the regulations dealt with treatment of animal wastes in confined animal-feeding operations, including sprawling hog-growing complexes. University officials opposed such suggestions as requiring monitoring wells in the ground near sewage lagoons. They said monitoring would be too expensive.

The Clean Water Commission last month rejected some of the rule changes suggested by the DNR staff.

One of the six officials named in the complaint is John Hoehne, 52, a commercial agricultural engineer in the university's extension division. Based in Columbia, Mo., Hoehne has been working with animal feedlot waste systems for 25 years. …