The Sierra Club says waste from a huge and growing hog farm could turn southern Utah into a gigantic pigsty - so it called Monday for the government to block its expansion.
The environmental group says a new generation of corporate livestock "factories" have sickened people with fouled air and water elsewhere. It worries Circle 4 Farms in Beaver and Iron counties may do the same - and soon produce more waste than Los Angeles.It called Monday for the nation to block expansion or new construction of all "concentrated animal feeding operations" until better regulation is in place to control their waste - and specifically attacked Circle 4 of Utah.
Bob Walton, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club's Utah chapter, told a press conference that Circle 4 already produces 500,000 hogs a year and has 82 active open-air sewage lagoons for waste washed out of their pens in warehouses.
"Talk of expansion suggests that the operation would quadruple in size," he said. "If this expansion is allowed to occur, waste - equivalent to the volume produced by the city of Los Angeles - will sit untreated in open pits," and maybe foul groundwater.
"We in the state of Utah are asked to tolerate the pollution that the rest of the country abhors," he said. "We have the most polluting smokestacks in the country on the Great Salt Lake. We use no nuclear power, yet we are asked to tolerate nuclear waste.
"And now, despite horror story after horror story about experiences with concentrated animal feeding operations and their woefully inadequate waste management practices, we are asked to tolerate the country's largest hog factory," he said.
Circle 4 Farms spokeswoman Renee Jacobsen said the Sierra Club description of expansion is exaggerated. She said the farms currently have 32,000 sows in Utah and is in the process of adding facilities for another 10,000. She said that is the only firm expansion plan that it now has in Utah.
Katie Elmer, Circle 4 environmental programs manager, also said,"We try to protect the environment in every way possible." She said that includes lining lagoons to prevent seepage into groundwater, having monitoring wells and inspecting lagoons regularly.
"We live here. We drink the water. We breathe the air," she said, adding that she's not worried about safety risks.
Steve Pollmann, Circle 4 general manager, said it is also working with the National Pork Producers Council to develop new and alternate technologies to better handle waste and odor abatement.
Walton complained that while other states are pursuing regulations to rein in similar operations, Utah seems to be helping Circle 4 to expand - and allow similar operations such as a planned huge chicken farm in Delta.
"Circle 4 plans to build publicly subsidized roads in a pristine desert setting to enhance its operation. There is also talk of a new massive international airport near Cedar City to be built for Circle 4's exports to southeast Asia. We assume this will be built with taxpayer monies," he said.
Jacobsen said claims that the airport is being considered to help Circle 4 enhance hog product exports "is totally wrong."
In the past, developers of the proposed Heritage International Airport near Cedar City have said plans remain preliminary but they have not suggested the airport would be used for Circle 4 exports, only as a gateway for tourists to a new museum complex in the area. The developers have also said the airport would not require tax money to build.
Other Sierra Club officials said waste from such livestock operations elsewhere has made groundwater undrinkable and helped spread toxic organisms such as the Pfiesteria germ outbreak that killed thousands of fish in Chesapeake Bay tributaries last year.