David Hoppe

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:: Plowing over local control

by David Hoppe

We all know how Indiana Republicans feel about big government: They’re against it.

And why is that?

The answer usually goes something like this: Big government is inefficient. It is incompetent. Worst of all, it is bossy.

But now that Republicans have super-majorities in both chambers of our state legislature, it appears some of them can’t help thinking big.

Take State Sen. Jean Leising, for example. Leising, the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair and Oldenburg Republican, has introduced a bill, SB249, aimed at preventing a county, municipality or township “from adopting an ordinance, resolution, rule, policy or other requirement” that would prohibit the building of factory farms or combined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in an area zoned for agriculture.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the people in a rural town or county or township want, or how they define their quality of life. If somebody wants to build a factory farm with thousands of hogs — and all the waste they create — the people living there can’t do anything to stop it.

Leising is proposing this bill because local governments have been acting in their own self-interest lately, deciding they don’t want CAFOs in their backyards. That’s because these communities have figured out that not only is there a good chance a CAFO will drive down the property values of everyone who lives nearby, it will also suck up a lot of local resources that the towns and counties can’t afford.

As a 2008 report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf) states: “The costs we pay as a society to support CAFOs — in the form of taxpayer subsidies, pollution, harm to rural communities, and poorer public health — is much too high.” CAFO costs that are shifted onto the public include water and energy use, water purification, manure distribution, remediation of leakage from manure storage facilities, and grain subsidies. The report concludes: “The bottom line is that society is currently propping up an undesirable form of animal agriculture with enormous subsidies and a lack of accountability for its externalized costs.” 

By attempting to prohibit the building of CAFOs, these local governments are actually ahead of Indiana’s state government. In trying to preserve their quality of life, they are also taking the lead in efforts to reinvent Indiana agriculture in a more sustainable way. In short, they are trying to save Indiana from its feckless state government.

But this isn’t only about agriculture. It is also about a supposed cornerstone principle of Indiana government: Local control. As former Jay County Commissioner Milo Miller told the Indianapolis Star: “They say they want the counties to have local control, But it’s ‘Do it our way.’ Who knows what’s best in the county? The state legislators or county officials?”

It seems it’s one thing to rail against big government, something else to oppose big business, in this case agribusiness. Suddenly the rights of small town officials and county commissioners don’t mean much. Indiana Republicans will go on saying they’re against big government. If only they meant it.