Green groups sue to end pollution-reporting exemptions for animal feeding operations

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 - A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit today challenging a Bush administration EPA decision that exempts large animal feeding operations from requirements that they file reports on airborne emissions of hazardous substances.

The exemptions were created in 2008. The environmental groups in short order challenged the decision, arguing that it violated two federal right-to-know laws. The suit was dismissed, however, after the Obama administration - in the plaintiffs' words - “promised to make a quick fix.” The groups contend Obama's EPA never moved to vacate or revise the exemption, hence they are asking the court to review their original petition.

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“As a result of this carve-out,” the groups said in a news release, “communities across the country are being denied information about air emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide - two toxic pollutants released when animal waste decomposes - from industrial animal feeding operations near where they live or work, or near their children's schools.”

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance. It asks the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia to re-open the case and order EPA to finally decide whether it will remove the exemption or not. If the agency decides to keep the carve-out, the coalition said, the court can then resolve its claim that EPA cannot lawfully exempt an entire industry from laws meant to protect the public health.

EPA said it will “review and respond to the lawsuit.” The National Chicken Council also said it is reviewing the suit. “Chicken producers,” the group said, “ have worked hard to meet and exceed strict air and water quality standards set by both federal and state government agencies and have put millions of dollars toward research and innovation, in order to develop and employ the most sustainable practices throughout the entire industry.” The National Pork Producers Council did not respond immediately to requests for comment. 

During a conference call on Wednesday arranged by the plaintiffs, Sacoby Wilson, an assistant professor at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, said emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in sufficient quantities can cause allergic reactions, burning eyes, cardio-pulmonary and respiratory problems and exacerbate asthmatic conditions. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable, he said.

People who live near large livestock feeding operations have a right to know kind of what pollutants are being emitted into their communities, Wilson said. “Without that data, they can't know what steps to take, they can't know how to modify policies.”  

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Also on the call were Rosemary Partridge, who said her small farm in Iowa is surrounded by industrial hog farms, and Terry Marshall, who said his home in rural North Carolina is near a dozen “enormous” poultry operations.

Partridge said she and her now retired husband used to enjoy birdwatching, hiking and other outdoor activities on the farm where they've lived for 37 years, but no more.

“Our enjoyment of the outdoors has been severely limited” by the emissions resulting from nearby “factory farms” where tens of thousands of hogs are being raised, she said. “It's hard to understand that these emissions that are known to be toxic are not regulated,” she said.

Marshall said conditions are often so bad near his home that he can't even go out on his back desk and barbecue.

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