TULSA, Okla. — A federal judge ruled Friday poultry litter could be classified as a solid waste under federal environmental laws if it is applied in excessive amounts on farmland.
The decision was a partial victory for Oklahoma in its environmental lawsuit against 12 Arkansas poultry companies. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson claims excessive application of chicken waste has resulted in runoff polluting the Illinois River watershed.
The case has drawn national attention because it could lead to similar lawsuits across the country challenging how the industry does business. A trial is set for Sept. 21.
On Thursday, attorneys for the poultry companies argued the litter should not be labeled solid waste because it has a beneficial use as a fertilizer and a market value. The state argued that litter was "patently" solid waste.
"I reject both approaches," U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell said Friday, before coming up with the compromise ruling. "It's very gray."
Frizzell said excessive application of the litter could make it a solid waste.
Attorneys for both sides spent Friday arguing more pretrial motions, including which evidence could be admitted. In Thursday's hearing, Frizzell ruled an economist who claims the poultry industry knew for years about the environmental harm chicken waste was causing would be allowed to testify.
The 1 million-acre watershed spans parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas and has 1,800 poultry houses, which produce an estimated 345,000 tons of chicken waste each year.
The companies in the lawsuit are Tyson Foods, Cobb-Vantress, Cal-Maine Foods, Cargill, George's, Peterson Farms and Simmons Foods.