Our View: D.C. Beltway group gets indigestion over poultry digester

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Good afternoon,

It seemed like good news when word came that the owner of the former Perdue chicken litter-to-fertilizer plant near Seaford was applying to Sussex County for an OK to operate an anaerobic digester.

I was wrong.

The digester would convert some of the region’s vast supply of chicken litter (poop and related stuff) to natural gas. It would keep the things out of farm fields and away from the area’s fragile waterways and inland bays.

The project ended up on the radar screen of a Washington, D.C.-based organization known as Food and Water Watch.

Food and Water Watch mainly focuses on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for oil and gas deposits. It also wants to stop all drilling for gas and oil.

For some reason, the inside-the-beltway group decided that a digester is as bad as a fracked well.

Delaware Public Media reported that a lawyer for the group, Tyler Lobdell argued before the Sussex County Planning and Zoning panel that the project would add to pollution and amounted to inappropriate use of the site. He incorrectly described the digester as a refinery.

In November, the organization accused the Sussex zoning group of attempting to stifle public comment.

Here’s the thing. Using landfill, sewage, and animal waste gas to produce electricity or natural gas is one way to ease the transition away from a fossil fuel economy.

If widely used, digesters will cut back on fracking and provide a renewable supply of natural gas that can heat homes and businesses. At this point, opponents will trot out arguments about safety (we are talking about gas here).

They fail to mention that digesters have been around for years at sewage treatment plants. The process is used to meet the power needs of plants in Wilmington and elsewhere.

Let’s be clear. The real goal of groups on the environmental fringe is to run the $3.8 billion Delmarva poultry industry out of the region.

It’s not going to happen, based on investments that continue to be made by producers and growers.

State and federal regulators have been too lax in dealing with the industry over the decades in areas ranging from worker safety to waste treatment. Still, growers and processors are making progress in becoming better neighbors.

Making a case for the chicken industry is made more complicated by Sussex County’s growth policies that too often allow new developments to be uncomfortably close to growers and processors.

The result is New Castle County-like traffic and sprawl and lots of new residents who didn’t always realize that rural landscapes come with farm sounds and smells.

Sprawl-related issues have nothing to do with the digester project. In this case, Food and Water Watch could not be more short-sighted in its reaction to something that is largely good for the environment and the economy. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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