The House today overwhelmingly approved, 78-17, legislation to issue state bonds for the startup Big River Steel mill proposed for Mississippi County. The state is prepared to put $125 million in incentives into the project in the hopes of creating more than 500 jobs. Nucor, already making steel in Mississippi, has fought the proposal, saying the market demand isn't sufficient to justify state subsidy of a competitor. The legislation had been approved in the Senate previously.
Rep. Stephen Meeks spoke against the bill. He said the super project money was meant to attract proven businesses, not those such as Big River Steel with no customer base and depending in part on public money from the teacher retirement system. He said it could turn out to be a "money pit" for the state.
The Arkansas Democratic Party took pains to note the "job-killing" Republicans who did not support the bill:
17 Republicans voted against the Big River Steel job creation bill or HB1870, including Alexander, Bell, Collins, Dale, Davis, Dotson, C. Douglas, Hobbs, House, Kerr, Lea, D. Meeks, S. Meeks, Miller, Payton, Westerman, and Womack. Three Republicans choose not to vote including representatives Hammer, Lowery, and Carter.
UPDATE: A GRIM DAY FOR THE WORKING:
ALSO AT THE LEGISLATURE TODAY:
*SCREWING THE WORKING MAN AND WOMAN: Without debate, the Senate passed legislation requiring random drug testing of people receiving unemployment benefits. No mention in the bill of drug testing all the unemployed members of the legisalture periodically. But that was only salt in the wounds of a vote to cut unemployment benefits. Check this out. Maybe the House can stop greedy Sen. Bart Hester's oh-so-Christian work.
* GUN BREAK FOR SENIORS: The House a bill to reduce the permit fee for concealed weapons for people 65 and older from $100 to $50. Rep. Andrea Lea had wanted to cut the fee for all, but the State Police said that would deal a budget blow to the agency, which runs the background checks and keeps the database.
* SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION: The House fell three votes short on a second try at expunging the vote that beat a moratorium on school consolidations based on a district falling below the 350-student minimum enrollment.
* TRUCK TAX: The House completed action on a 15 percent increase in the registration fee for big truck rigs, an industry-supported bill to both create a truck safety program in the Highway Department but also to make up for the break truckers got the last session when a planned diesel tax increase didn't go forward, though a sales tax increase on all other taxpayers for road work did.
* OPPOSITION TO BUFFALO RIVER HOG FARM: The National Parks Conservation Association has called on the Agriculture Department's Farm Services Agency to pull a permit for hog farm along a tributary of Buffalo National River. The Association contends (see jump) that the permit was granted without proper consultation of the National Park Service.
Mt. Judea, Ark. - On March 29th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) responded to a written request from the National Park Service (NPS) seeking clarity around a permit that was issued earlier this year for a hog farm along Big Creek — a tributary that empties into Buffalo National River just 5 miles downstream. An analysis of the process by which C & H Hog Farms, Inc. obtained a loan guarantee suggests that the permit was issued without proper consultation of the Park Service — a requirement of the Farm Services Agency for projects located below or above a national river.
“Based upon the Farm Services Agency’s own guidelines, the entire permitting process for the hog farm was flawed and the decision should be thrown out,” said National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Senior Program Manager Emily Jones. “This hog farm could do real damage to the resources at Buffalo National River. If a proper review was completed, the environmental assessment would have shown the impacts.”
The hog farm would hold as many as 6,500 animals and generate roughly 2 million gallons of waste annually, which could impact the Buffalo River downstream. The operation could harm several endangered or threatened species in the region, including the gray bat and the endangered snuffbox mussel. Under Endangered Species Act regulations, federal agencies must ensure their actions don’t jeopardize the continued existence of listed species. In addition to failing to consult with the Park Service on impacts to the river, the Farm Services Agency did not submit a determination of effects on endangered species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by law.
The Buffalo National River is America’s first national river. In 2011, over 1 million visitors to the river spent over $38 million in surrounding communities, creating jobs, attending festivals, and supporting local businesses. Canoe and kayak enthusiasts, equestrians, hikers, fisherman, and birders enjoy the 132 mile free flowing river. Elk, deer and turkey, along with more than 300 species of fish, freshwater mussels, insects, and aquatic plants depend on the Buffalo, America’s first National River. A hog farm could jeopardize this economic benefit for the State of Arkansas and impact local communities.
“On behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association’s over 800,000 members and supporters, we call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to work cooperatively to pull this permit,” said Jones. “Buffalo National River is a national treasure, and the necessary precautions must be followed to ensure it is protected for future generations.”