Opinion

On March 27, Arkansas Republicans nearly passed a bill that would have allowed the pollution of state water bodies.

Had it not been pulled, Senate Bill 550 would have transferred the responsibility for the regulation of liquid waste in our water supply from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

Included in the bill were provisions, masquerading as efficiency measures, for liquid waste regulations. In reality, these provisions were attempts to make it easier to get away with escaping public accountability and lowering water quality standards. Thankfully, the bill was pulled by its house sponsor after passing through the senate, though a majority of the GOP-controlled Arkansas Senate passed the bill.

The bill’s provisions would have ended guarantees for the notices of permit applications for liquid waste, as well as the ability to request a public hearing on permit applications. In short, the consequences for violating liquid waste regulations would have been lessened.

The deregulations would have enabled agricultural businesses to pollute Arkansan bodies of water with fewer repercussions, which is incredibly worrisome.

By transferring water management to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, it would also become much more difficult for journalists to utilize the Freedom of Information Act to investigate water-related records, which should already be publicly accessible, for possible violations.

Tad Bohannon, the Central Arkansas Water CEO who oversees the state’s largest water district, later told the Arkansas House panel that SB 550 had the potential to expose our drinking and recreational water sources to toxic and dangerous animal waste.  

Because of the deregulation provisions in the bill, the Buffalo National River would once again be susceptible to large swine operations, making it easier for businesses to pollute Arkansas water and rake in profits at the expense thereof.

Politicians and government officials might constantly insist they want to be as transparent as possible, but anyone who looks closely knows that reality tells a different story. There should be binding regulations in place to assure the public where its tax money is going and what it is drinking.

At the committee meeting where Rep. Bentley presented the bill on March 27, Colene Gaston, the staff attorney for Beaver Water District, commented that, “Intent is not sufficient.”

Her assertion is undeniable. The members of regulatory commissions will not host public hearings out of the goodness of their hearts. It is about public pressure and statutes that mandate them to be responsible for their actions.

Republicans who take positions against big government and bureaucracy should be talking about this more than anyone, but instead, the state’s GOP politicians are falling in line behind the whims of corporations that would benefit from this law. It is shameful that politicians and businesses might threaten something as basic and essential as water solely for corporate profits.

Though Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) originally sponsored the bill, even she has realized “there were too many questions” to pass it and pulled the bill during the committee debate. Though appreciation is due for her revocation of the bill, it is important to realize that the Republican-controlled Senate passed it prior to the debate.

Bentley has said that she intends to run the bill in upcoming sessions. This means vigilance is mandatory for anyone who uses public water or cares about preserving corporate accountability.

 

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