Lawmakers consider shrinking proposal to pause new large animal farms

Amendments to the proposal would limit it to poultry operations and pause permits for two years

By: - March 22, 2023 11:22 am
large chicken operation

A proposal to pause permitting on all new large confined animal operations in Oregon has drawn a lot of attention from farm groups, conservationists and the people living in the regions and communities where the operations exist. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Lawmakers have amended a controversial proposal that would have paused new permits for all large animal operations for eight years by trimming it back.

A Senate Bill 85 amendment submitted by state Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, would halt new permits only for large chicken operations and limit the permit suspension to two years. Golden said he submitted the change after talking with other legislators. 

That change sparked nearly two hours of public testimony on Wednesday during a meeting of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. 

The bulk of the testimony came from people upset about the proposed changes which are outlined in the amendment. For months, many residents in Linn and Marion counties have been fighting against permits for new industrial-sized chicken operations in the area. 

The “amendment would weaken the bill and sidestep the original objective, which was to hold all polluting factory farms – not just poultry farms – accountable for their harms,” said Quinn Reed, Oregon policy director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. 

The bill would direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to study the impact of industrial-sized chicken operations and stop issuing new permits or permits for expansion of the largest chicken farms until June 30, 2031 and the study is complete.

The largest confined animal operation in Oregon – Tier 2 – are those  with several thousand animals, including 2,500 or more dairy cows and 125,000 or more chickens. Of more than 200 large dairies in the state, just 14 are Tier 2, and among the 26 large chicken plants, four are Tier 2. 

The proposal has drawn nearly 900 comments in verbal and  written testimony, including 675 in support of the bill and nearly 200 opposed. 

Rocky Dallum, a consultant representing the Northwest Chicken Council, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said the groups were against the bill and all amendments, and claimed Oregon has the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to permitting large animal operations.

“Polluting ground or surface waters is illegal and our producers have a very high compliance rate and suspending any permitting programs should only be done based on a clearly stated system failure, which we do not have,” he said. 

The committee will accept  written testimony until 8 a.m. on Friday.

Two related bills that would have more tightly regulated water use by large confined animal operations have died. 

Large animal operators are currently exempt from Oregon’s groundwater use laws and do not need water rights for their operations, nor do they need to report their water use to the Oregon Water Resources Department.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt is a reporter for Oregon Capital Chronicle. She has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.