Green groups sue to force EPA regulation of animal farm emissions

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015-- The Environmental Integrity Project and the Humane Society of the United States filed lawsuits in federal court today against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to respond to requests to regulate farm emissions like methane and ammonia.

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The groups say they took legal action on behalf of rural residents and farmers who say their health is affected by air pollutants from large nearby farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Other plaintiffs include the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Association of Irritated Residents.

The Environmental Integrity Project and the Humane Society filed petitions with EPA in 2009 and 2011 asking the agency to address farm pollution, but say they received no response. The groups say EPA's delay in responding to their petitions is unreasonable under federal law. The lawsuits ask the court to order EPA to make a final decision on both petitions within 90 days.

“All we're doing is seeking to compel a response, and then we'll see what that response is and we'll go from there,” Peter Brandt, senior attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, told reporters in a teleconference. He noted a federal law called the Administrative Procedures Act provides a cause of action for citizens to sue the agency.

The Humane Society's petition asks EPA to include CAFOs as a category of pollution sources under the Clean Air Act, and set performance standards for new and existing facilities. The Environmental Integrity Project's petition asks EPA to set health-based standards for ammonia.

Keeve Nachman, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future, said “there is mounting evidence that air pollutants from large-scale animal operations can sicken nearby residents. “It's important that EPA use its authority to protect those most vulnerable to the effects of these exposures,” he said.

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The plaintiffs say the 20,000 CAFOs in the U.S. containing billions of chickens, hogs and other animals emit air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, methane and particulate matter, and are causing health problems in humans and polluting the air and waterways.

“The agency has a lot of information before it that we believes demonstrates very clearly that there is an imperative to regulate these emissions,” said Tarah Heinzen, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

(Philip Brasher contributed to this report.)

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