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Minnesota Legislature

Stink over farm odors has some doing more than plugging their nose

The House Agriculture Policy Committee learned Tuesday the best way to measure farm odor is not with the nose, but with the ears.

The worse an odor gets the more you hear about it, and committee members got an earful from opponents of a bill that would offer some protections for livestock farms sued due to odor issues.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), HF1026 aims to limit liability from lawsuits alleging these farms are a public or private nuisance due to livestock odor.  A farm would not be protected if it violates the state’s hydrogen sulfide ambient air quality standards or ignores directions from the Pollution Control Agency or a county feedlot officer to address a violation.

Citing the importance of agriculture to the state, Gunther said the bill was very important; however, he asked that it be laid over so further work could be done to it.

“It’s something I want to make sure we have right,” Gunther said.

AUDIO: Listen to the House Agriculture Policy Committee meeting

Although those in favor of the bill did not speak, three opponents did testify including Sonja Trom Eayrs, an attorney whose family is now involved in a lawsuit over a feedlot in Dodge County.

Trom Eayrs said the air quality at her family’s farm has been ruined by nearby feedlots, including one that opened in 2014 that she said produces over 1 million gallons of manure per year.

“When they open the curtains at night, the stench rolls across the countryside,” Trom Eayrs said.

The kinds of lawsuits HF1026 would impact are the last chance for citizens like her family to “fight back against these feedlots,” she said.

Joel Carlson, chief lobbyist for the Minnesota Association for Justice, cited several reasons the legislation needs to be more carefully considered. He said the bill, as it is currently written, would take away rights governments have to regulate a public nuisance. He also said that when the Pollution Control Agency eliminated its odor standard in the ‘90s, the agency “clearly stated” lawsuits could be used to address future problems.

“Unintendedly, I think this bill takes all of that right away,” Carlson said.

A companion, SF901, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and House Policy Committee.

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