Stifling public comments on...stifling public comments?


Yeah, it's just as absurd as it sounds:

A Senate committee on Wednesday shut down public discussion of a contentious portion of the Farm Act, which coincidentally, sharply curbs public input on swine farms that install biogas systems and anaerobic digesters.

The public was allowed to comment on Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee, which approved the bill and sent it on to the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, though, when the Judiciary Committee discussed the legislation, committee leaders limited public comment to non-controversial sections and specifically excluded the digester issue.

Republicans have refined this tactic over the years (only allowing certain topics for public comments). Senator Amy Galey was notorious for this as Chair of the Alamance County Commission, and kept deputies handy to drag out speakers who deviated from her "allowed" comments. FWIW, it is tempting to set such parameters. I've conducted several meetings where public commenters have gone way past their allotted speaking times, repeating almost verbatim what several others have said, and I have contemplated asking if anybody had a comment not related to a certain issue. But I held my tongue, because I didn't want anybody feeling they had been stifled. Back to the pigshit:

Jackson and the pork industry argue that holding public hearings on each individual farm that installs a digester would delay the permitting process. Instead, the Farm Act would allow all operations with a biodigester to apply for a general permit, which environmental groups also oppose.

Anaerobic digesters, which are essentially covered lagoons that trap methane, do reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. In calendar year 2020, manure-based anaerobic digesters reduced greenhouse gas emissions nationwide by an estimated five million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the unit of measure for methane.

However, accounting for methane leakage from the natural gas pipelines, from the animals’ digestive systems, and from the spray fields and uncovered lagoons, the net reductions are unclear. This uncertainty is due in part to the lack of EPA regulations and data on individual farms’ methane emissions. A recent petition by environmental groups to the EPA asked the agency to regulate farms as stationary sources of methane, which also would require measuring and reining in emissions.

And not all lagoons would be covered. Secondary lagoons that catch additional feces and urine are open, according to a DEQ presentation made at public hearing earlier this year, and thus would emit methane.

Janet Melvin, a resident of Sampson County, spoke to lawmakers on Tuesday. She urged them to strip the biogas section from the Farm Act. “We have already experienced what it is like when the community is excluded from whatever agriculture and energy corporations are doing,” Melvin said. “We have the majority of hog farms, all located in mostly Black and brown communities.”

Bolding mine, because that is the biggest drawback to pursuing this technology. It perpetuates the lagoon and spray process, which has tormented the mostly African-American communities near these operations for years. I'm all for limiting fugitive methane emissions wherever we can, but you know what? I don't live there. I don't have that nasty airborne crap (literally) wafting over my house nearly every day, burning my eyes and making me nauseous. These committees need to take a road trip, and sit in the neighbor's front yard in lawn chairs when those fields are being sprayed. If they're not willing to do that, then they need to let the people speak. One or the other.