There’s a reason that we have a nonpartisan, independent judiciary system in Kansas. And a recent decision by a Shawnee County judge over the Kansas Department of Health and Environment improperly issuing permits for hog farming proves the point.

In essence, hog producers thought they might have found a loophole in state water protection laws. The KDHE under former Gov. Sam Brownback seemed to accept the move.

As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter wrote: “The central issue in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club of Kansas was whether KDHE enabled prominent north-central Kansas hog farmer Terry Nelson and his relatives to sidestep sewage waste discharge controls and to subvert livestock concentration limits by creating side-by-side businesses out of what were actually single operational complexes. All swine facilities in the dispute were under common management but segregated in the 2017 permit application process by establishing four separate limited liability companies.”

There’s a reason we have environmental regulations. We have decided as a society that we want to keep our citizens — and resources needed to sustain these citizens like water — safe. Industries twisting themselves into knots to sidestep regulations, or even searching for ways to do so, violates the spirit of the law.

The Legislature in 1998 made a simple calculation. The larger the hog operation, the more environmental risk it posed. Thus, facilities needed to be “located at least 500 feet from surface water,” as Carpenter wrote.

It simply defies common sense to think that a single operation, owned by separate yet connected LLCs, would be able to skirt that law and the clear intention of our state’s elected representatives. For the sake of our state’s environment and commonsense reading of the law, we would hope that the producers and the Kansas Livestock Association (which was consulted during the process) accept and follow the ruling.

Kansas needs a healthy and thriving agricultural sector. It’s a huge part of our economy and an important part of our history and culture. We raise food enjoyed by the whole country and the world beyond, and we should support our farmers.

But if farming practices harm the land itself, we’re throwing away the ability of future generations to keep using this land productively. And we’re risking the health and well-being of those who live here now. We’re all in the business of long-term, sustainable, responsible use of our lands.

That’s a cause that everyone should be able to get behind.

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