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Farm Bill Passing NC Senate Includes New Biogas Permits

Farm Bill Passing NC Senate Includes New Biogas Permits

The annual farm bill pushed by Senate Republicans won the full chamber's approval Tuesday, including a provision that would likely make it easier upon North Carolina livestock operations to secure permits to convert liquid waste into natural gas.

The measure would create "general permits" for animal farm operations that also allows the owner to construct and operate a farm digester system. Currently these operators seek individual permits. General permits that are renewed every five years and are considered more streamlined.

The pork industry supports the proposed change, saying biogas operations on farms are very similar in scope and that the federal government has encouraged as a way to produce cleaner energy. The bill directs a general permit be issued in 90 days or the applicant could go to an administrative law judge to challenge the delay. Two dozen permits related to such biogas production at farms have been issued over the past decade, the bill's chief sponsor said.

"There will be many more farms applying for these permits in the future," Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, said before a 28-21 party-line vote in favor of the bill. "The technology is well understood."

Opponents argue the general permit process will make it harder for environmental groups and the neighbors of those farms to be heard. They say biogas production brings with it its own pollutants and the operations don't get rid of the stench emanating from the waste pits.

In a biogas operation, liquid hog waste enters a covered anaerobic digester and captures the natural gas, which in turn powers an electric turbine or gets transported by pipe. The waste ultimately enters a lagoon and is sprayed on land.

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