Colorado Governor Under Fire for Backing Controversial Factory Farms
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is once again ruffling feathers within the environmental community.
This time, the controversy was sparked when Hickenlooper filed an amicus brief that stated two "cage-free" Hostetler family chicken farms in Delta County should be opened for business—a decision backed by Delta County commissioners, Delta County Farm Bureau and other supporters of the crowded, egg-laying farms, reports The Daily Sentinel.
Debris spews from the Hostetler chicken farm located on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss, CO. The chicken farm was shut down by court order late last year. Photo credit: Dr. Susan Raymond
One of those farms, located on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss, CO, was shut down in late 2013 by District Court Judge Steven Patrick who ruled the county did not properly pursue health complaints from some vocal neighbors of the farm.
The other confined chicken farm, which was in the process of being developed, also will remain on hold pending an appeal of Patrick’s decision.
Hickenlooper, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Department of Agriculture submitted the amicus brief to the Colorado Court of Appeals supporting the appeal filed by Delta County commissioners and the Hostetler family.
Cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, although most cage-free hens live in large flocks consisting of thousands of hens that never go outside.
When closing the farm last year, Patrick criticized Delta County officials for not addressing the health claims of some neighbors to the farm. However, in its brief to the appeal court, the Colorado Attorney General’s office contended the farm “went beyond all regulatory requirements” to “minimize undesirable air emissions.”
It states a number of measures were initiated to minimize emissions, including laying sawdust, misting and maximizing ventilation at the egg-laying facility.
Most of those actions were taken in advance of a county-commissioned air quality study of the facility, which was heavily cited by government leaders in other documents filed last week.
Travis Jardon—a plaintiff in the case and a resident of Sunset Mesa, where the second Hostetler farm is planned—called the report a “15-minute snapshot study” that revealed very little about the pollutants actually being discharged at the 15,000-hen facility, according to The Daily Sentinel.
"I have 60 acres directly downwind [from the closed-down farm]," said Dr. Susan Raymond, Veterinarian and owner of North Fork Veterinary Clinic that sits less than 900 feet from the farm. "My hay crops are rotting due to mold and bacteria being spewed upon my property. I also raise Registered Quarter horses that came down with bloody noses, chronic coughs, and heaves (asthma). This industrial poultry has severely impacted my ability to make a living. My hired help have all had respiratory issues. My clients had issues. My patients became ill."
Proponents argue the operating farm did its part to neutralize environmental impacts, and that Patrick’s district court ruling contradicts the state’s Right to Farm law.
Jardon said the other pillar of Hickenlooper's stance, that Patrick’s decision of shuttering the farms runs counter to the broad Right to Farm law, should not apply since the case, currently on appeal, is narrow in scope.
Jardon and the other plaintiffs are crafting their answer to the recent court filings, and should have their rebuttle filed shortly.
He speculates officials with the Delta County Farm Bureau lobbied the governor, who is running for reelection in November, to get involved in the case.
"The Farm Bureau who is backed by corporate agriculture (Monsanto, Dupont, etc.) went to [Hickenlooper] and told him that this is a 'right to farm' issue and that this will forever change livestock raising in Colorado and possibly set precedence for the rest of the country," she said. "When in fact this is a land-use decision."
The opposition group tried to get its own meeting with the governor, hearing he would likely weigh in, but was unsuccessful.
Local Colorado media outlets reached out to Hickenlooper's office, but were met with replies of "no comment."
Click below to view a video shot by Dr. Susan Raymond from her property, which is next to the closed Hostetler chicken farm in Hotchkiss, CO.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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