Federal funding to treat pig manure raises stink

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | 2:55 p.m. CDT; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

KANSAS CITY — A factory farm in northwest Missouri has received about $250,000 in a federal funding earmark from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provoking taxpayer watchdog groups that question what housing and urban renewal have to do with pig farms.

But Sen. Kit Bond and the company involved, Premium Standard Farms, defend the spending, pointing out that HUD has programs for rural economic development, too.

The money was an earmark that came about in 2006 while Bond, a Missouri Republican, was chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handled the money.

Bond designated it to help Premium Standard Farms, a subsidiary of Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods Inc., come up with technology to better manage hog waste, a major challenge on farms that house thousands of animals, said Shana Marchio, Bond's spokeswoman.

Premium Standard, which has several farms northwest of Kansas City, plans to develop a test "swine manure dewatering" lagoon on a farm near Trenton. It's designed to reduce the volume of the waste and make it easier to transport.

Critics of the project said it did not matter if the lagoon could somehow squeeze under HUD's umbrella. The lagoon highlights the problems with the thousands of earmarks that Congress approves every year, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

He noted a $1.8 million earmark uncovered in the recent appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama. It will allow for research to control the smell of pig dung and was sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Ellis said big farm businesses should not be receiving public funding to try to fix the massive pollution they create.

"It is Uncle Sucker to the rescue," Ellis said. "Don't raise hogs if you don't want to deal with the aftereffects, which is manure."

Bond defended the earmark in a written statement, saying "hog farms provide thousands of jobs for rural communities in Missouri."

But, he added, "anyone who lives downwind from one knows manure management can be an issue — turning this liability into an economic development asset while cleaning up the environment is an important goal and a smart investment."

Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD, said he knew of no other department money being spent on pig farms. But HUD is only a pass-through agency that has guidelines to help oversee that Missouri pork is spent properly, he said.

"We have little discretion over this matter unless they submit a plan to us that says they intended to send their employees on an all-expense vacation to Tahiti," Sullivan said.

Bill Homann, president of Premium Standard Farms, said his company approached Bond's committee.

"He expressed some interest in this kind of project," Homann said. "We thought originally we would get some kind of grant funding. How that wound up being a HUD earmark, I really can't speak to that."

In the lagoon case, the HUD earmark was doubly surprising to one housing advocate.

"I cannot, I simply cannot understand and cannot imagine any justification for diverting HUD money to build a lagoon on a pig farm," said Shirley Dobbins, a member of Communities Creating Opportunity. Among other things, her faith-based group has pushed city government to deal with wasteful spending in the housing authority of Kansas City.

She said money for public housing is especially important now because of the economy.


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