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story.lead_photo.caption Mike Bernskoetter Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter said Friday he remains confident his bill limiting local regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, will be passed this session.

Missouri's Senate debated the bill for several hours last Tuesday, without taking a final vote on it — but Bernskoetter said Senate leadership has promised him more time for floor debate.

Bernskoetter's bill would prohibit county commissions and county health center boards from making regulations for CAFOs that are inconsistent with, or more stringent than, any state law or Natural Resources Department rules or regulations relating to environmental controls.

"Most of the people that were up the other day discussing it were people that it doesn't affect in a negative way," Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune. "It would only affect them in a positive way, to where (CAFOs) produce protein for reasonable prices."

One of those involved in Tuesday's floor debate — Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur — told Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City: "I live in an area of West St. Louis County where we don't, to my knowledge, have any CAFOs.

"But you would be amazed at the number of people in my district who care very much about this issue, because it affects people and the environment, all throughout our state."

Schupp wanted lawmakers to require advance notice to property owners within a 3-mile radius, so they could comment on a proposed CAFO before any permits were issued or any construction begun.

"(They) haven't had — through statute — an opportunity to weigh in prior to the building of those structures on that CAFO," she said. "People need to be provided a voice."

Bernskoetter told Schupp that 3 miles was too large a range.

Current regulations create three different classes of CAFOs, with different buffer zone requirements of 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 feet.

Ultimately, the Senate last week adopted Dan Hegeman's amendment requiring a CAFO operator to notify, by certified mail, "all adjoining property owners within three times the buffer distance," as well as notifying the state DNR and the governing body of the county where the CAFO would be located.

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst supports the bill.

"The most local of all control is control by the land owner," Hurst told the News Tribune last week. "In other words, the property owner says, 'I get to do with my property what I (think is) in the best interest of my business and my family.' That's the control we're in favor of."

However, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which said it lobbies for family farmers, opposes Bernskoetter's bill.

"(It) will strip local control from rural counties, taking away our right to protect our farms, families, water and air, communities and property rights from the negative impacts of corporate-controlled industrial livestock operations," the Crisis Center posted on its website,

The organization also noted Bernskoetter's bill "would negate all existing health ordinances in 20 rural counties (that have been passed by local, elected representatives) and stop any county from passing a new ordinance in order to protect the health and welfare of their citizens."

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Hurst and Bernskoetter said the bill would make regulations consistent throughout the state.

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune: "DNR has good regulations in place. If there's a complaint, they come out, and they investigate and handle it. They've got their system, and I think their system works very well."

However, the Rural Crisis Center disagrees.

"The sad fact is our Department of Natural Resources will not protect us from the negative impacts of CAFOs," the organization said on its website. "There are zero air quality standards for CAFOs with less than 17,500 hogs, 7,000 cattle or 875,000 chicken broilers.

"There are no state setback requirements between CAFOs and populated areas."

Jeanne Heuser, a retired technical information specialist who worked with the U.S. Geological Survey, told a recent Moniteau County commissioners' meeting that CAFOs present a number of health problems that should concern local officials — including being a potential source for air and water pollution.

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune: "There's all kinds of rules and regulations — they have to have a wastewater plan. These feeding operations are completely closed.

"The effluent from these lagoons or these holding tanks doesn't come out — it's all held in place and eventually the farmer will pump it out and either sell it to another farmer or they'll apply it to their (own) fields" as fertilizer.

Hurst last week questioned the environmental arguments, saying the main fight against CAFOs is the odor they have.

"This is a 'not in my backyard' issue," he told the News Tribune. "It isn't a health issue and, if you read these county health ordinances, there's no scientific health concerns there. All it is is a way of keeping these facilities — of zoning agriculture and only agriculture — out of the community."

Moniteau County's commissioners haven't taken a position on CAFOs or on Bernskoetter's bill. And, while the Missouri Association of Counties last November approved a resolution objecting to removing the county's authority over utility poles, it hasn't taken a position on local control of CAFOs.

Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, noted the contractors who build many of the region's CAFOs "have certain standards for those buildings, (that) are engineered to certain plans. They won't just accept anything."

However, are those standards compatible with the local county's building standards, Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, asked.

"I am a big supporter of building permits — and local control," Walsh said.

When the Senate resumes debate on Bernskoetter's bill, its first order of business will be deciding whether to adopt Holsman's proposed amendment, that would allow "any county of the state that has an elected county planning commission may impose standards or requirements through the planning and zoning process on a concentrated animal feeding operation that are more stringent than" other provisions of state law or of any DNR regulations.

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Although most Missouri cities have planning and zoning regulations, most counties in the state have been reluctant to adopt them.

Holsman told colleagues: "The only way you're going to be more stringent than DNR is (to) create a Planning and Zoning Commission" — and voters in counties that choose not to create that process won't have a way to regulate CAFOs.

Bernskoetter sees his bill as an economic development tool.

"They're not going to put a factory out in a small county, but if they can put a feeding operation in there, there might be a few jobs there," he said. "It might help out the banker and the convenience store, and get a little income for the schools.

"I think the majority of the (Senate) will support this idea."

House weighs limits to ag-related regulations

Meanwhile, the Missouri House on Thursday passed and sent to the Senate a bill to give county sheriffs — and federal or state agencies with authority over farms — the exclusive right to inspect them.

Operations to be covered under the proposal include facilities that produce eggs, dairy products, livestock or poultry, or the raising "of dogs or other animals that are not used to produce any food product."

Brian Smith, a lobbyist and organizer for the Columbia-based Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said the bill by Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, also would mean counties couldn't enforce health ordinances or zoning laws over certain livestock facilities.

However, Haden said county health officials lack the expertise to regulate the large operations, and local governments are often biased against the facilities.

"They do not have the training, they don't have consistency," Haden said. "And, again, almost all of the health ordinances are designed to prohibit, not to allow."

The Associated Press contributed some information used in this story.

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