(Note: This is a response from Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) to the Environmental Protection Agency proposing penalties totaling $177,000 for pollution by his hog farming operation in Weakley County. Previous post HERE.)
News release from Rep. Andy Holt/em>
DRESDEN, Tenn., August 31, 2015– Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) says he is the leading voice against the EPA in the State House. Because of his opposition, the EPA now has him and his family farm in their cross-hairs.
“It’s clear what’s going on here,” said Holt. “In an attempt to stand for Tennessee’s farmers and small businesses, I have sponsored multiple pieces of legislation and led many requests to the State Attorney General to fight back against President Obama’s EPA. We saw President Obama’s IRS being used to target conservative groups, and now the EPA is being used in the same manner. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Nashville and serve in the state legislature. I wanted to keep farm families in Tennessee from having to endure the financially & emotionally crushing experience of dealing with an out of control regulatory agency; little did I know that this fight would become so personal.”
At the center of the EPA’s complaint are two separate events where, during historic heavy rainfall events, Holt’s farm was forced to discharge wastewater from containment lagoons, which is stored to be used as fertilizer; a practice common amongst municipal sewage systems.
“Many critics with political agendas have tried to brand this as dumping hog waste into a creek. That isn’t true. The wastewater was dispersed over land in a manner prescribed by state regulators. Some of the wastewater did undoubtedly end up in a drainage ditch (not a creek), but when mixed with the billions of gallons of rain water that fell on those days in the Northfork Obion watershed, it would be comparable to pouring a can of sprite in an Olympic sized swimming pool,” said Holt. “Local media has stood in this ditch with me and seemed shocked at the EPA’s complaint. Unfortunately, lots of folks who are now a couple generations removed from the farm simply don’t understand where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it. Therefore, it’s easy for political operatives to manipulate their thinking to conclude something major has happened in this situation.”
In 2011, and again in 2013, two separate historic rainfall events threatened to compromise Holt’s wastewater lagoons. He called the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), and was told to relieve some of the contents in order to prevent a catastrophic breach.
“The whole situation boils down to a risk mitigation scenario. You’ve just got to ask yourself, ‘Is it better to relieve a couple hundred thousand gallons from the impoundment and avert a much more serious issue, or do you want to potentially lose 3 million gallons?’ There’s always another side of the story being told, and that’s the situation myself and the state were facing”, says Holt.
Holt maintains that the EPA would never even have known about the incident if it weren’t for him proactive in seeking a solution and self-reporting.
“If I hadn’t done the right thing by calling TDEC to report what was happening, and followed their directions to relieve the lagoons, the EPA would probably have never known about these events,” said Holt. “However, I wanted to ensure that the state knew exactly what was going on, so I sought their instruction. My real fear is that other farmers, developers and land owners will look at my situation and conclude that self-reporting is now punished instead of recognized with appreciation by regulators.”
Holt’s discharge permit had expired before the events occurred, however, the state still told him to relieve the lagoons.
“I was in the process of reapplying for the permits when these events occurred,” said Holt. “I was working closely with the state agencies in charge of permitting. Each time I applied, more paperwork was required, so it was an ongoing process. I was informed I could pay upwards of $10,000 to have a private contractor fill out the paperwork, but we are a small family farm. We can’t afford that, so I was trying to do it on my own.”
Due to the fact that the incidents were self-reported, the state has cleared Holt of any wrongdoing.
“It’s not like I was trying to hide anything,” said Holt. “My actions had absolutely zero negative environmental impact.”
The EPA agrees. In the their letter to Holt, it is stressed that his actions caused no harm to the environment.
“Even the EPA said there was absolutely no harm done. Their complaint is that the ‘potential’ for harm existed,” said Holt. “That’s like fining someone for speeding simply because they were driving and the potential for them to speed exists.”
Holt says that the EPA is out of control and unaccountable.
“The EPA has been making national headlines all Summer. The courts have slapped them down twice for overstepping their authority,” said Holt. “ Not to mention the fact that they spilled 3 million gallons of highly toxic waste into rivers that feed drinking water and irrigation to Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation. The EPA admits that I caused no harm, but they want $177,500 from me anyways. Who will hold the EPA accountable for the harm they have caused to countless people?”
Holt says he will continue to take on the EPA in the state legislature, as well as, on his own farm.
“This isn’t over. We have a Constitution with the Tenth Amendment written in plain language,” said Holt.