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Rural Interests Fight Pa. Farm Bill

October 28, 2002

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ A bill that would limit the power of Pennsylvania municipalities to regulate farming has supporters cheering the proposed increase in protections and opponents worried about the rise of corporate farms.

Now sitting in the state House of Representative, the bill would amend the state’s Right to Farm Act _ a 1982 law meant to let farmers operate without the threat of nuisance lawsuits or ordinances.

The proposal would prohibit ordinances more stringent than current state laws governing agriculture. Opponents of large facilities known as ``factory farms″ often turn to local authorities for help in restricting their operations.

The bill also would allow farmers or other aggrieved parties to sue to invalidate any ordinance inconsistent with the state law and recoup legal fees and court costs.

The measure has sat in the House Appropriations Committee since May 7 after passing the Senate in a 48-2 vote. A spokeswoman for Rep. David G. Argall, the chairman of the committee, has said the measure is ``not on the agenda″ for the foreseeable future.

Supporters of the bill say it would provide help against unfair ordinances directed at existing farms by local officials. In some cases, proponents say, the rules curtailing farm operations are put into place at the request of new neighbors who move near existing farms only to find they do not like the smells or sights there.

Opponents say it would protect large, corporate-owned farms from local regulation.

``There are some serious issues that are very broad and encompassing,″ said Larry Breech, president of the 1,400-member Pennsylvania Farmers Union, which opposes the bill. ``Does a community have the right to determine its economic and social direction? ... What corporations are saying is `No, we have more rights and want more rights than citizens.′ We don’t think a corporation should have more rights than a citizen.″

The chief lobbyist for the 25,000-member Pennsylvania State Grange disputed the notion that the bill was designed solely to help corporate farms.

Family farms also have difficulties with ordinances that curtail their activities, said Brenda Shambaugh, legislative director for the Grange. For example, she said, farms sometimes are allowed to spread manure only on certain days.

Grange officials cited one example of a long-standing Cambria County hog farm that was forced to restrict its operations after a family built a home next door and began complaining to local authorities.

``The only way to combat those ordinances is to take them to court, and small family farms don’t have the $80,000 to $100,000 it takes,″ Shambaugh said.

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On the Net:

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau: http://www.pfb.com

Pennsylvania State Grange: http://www.pagrange.org

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