More than 70 groups from 27 states are objecting to a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would exempt factory farms from reporting emissions of toxic gases from animal waste.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice submitted formal comments today on behalf of the groups, which include family farmers and environmental advocates, saying the proposal will harm the people living and working near these operations. Today was the deadline for public comment on the proposed rule change, which was unveiled in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Under the proposed rule change, large chicken production facilities, hog confinements, and cattle feeding operations would no longer have to report hazardous releases of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxic gases.
“This ill-considered proposal may save polluters a toll-free phone call, but it will make it harder for local emergency responders to protect communities,” said Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell. “It undermines public safety and goes against the law.”
EPA proposed the rule change after pressure from agriculture industry lobbyists — in spite of findings by its own scientists that toxic gases from factory farms can pose serious health risks, including respiratory illness, lung inflammation and increasing vulnerability to asthma. Sudden exposure can also be fatal: one study found that 19 workers at factory farms in Iowa were killed from hydrogen sulfide released during manure agitation.
The rule change would drop reporting requirements for hazardous air releases from big animal-feeding operations such as Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Ore., where the EPA found waste from the operation’s 52,000 dairy cows pumps more than 5.5 million pounds of ammonia into the atmosphere each year.
The proposal comes as the agricultural industry has undergone a dramatic shift from family farms to large-scale industrial animal feeding operations. The federal government estimates that animal density at poultry, swine, dairy and cattle operations in the U.S. have increased on average between 50 and 176 percent.
“Yet again EPA is flaunting its willingness to place the financial interests of industry over the health and safety of our environment and our communities,” says Scott Edwards, legal director of the Waterkeeper Alliance. “Factory farming is having a devastating impact on our nation’s waterways and now EPA is helping to insure that our airsheds also fall victim to this destructive practice.”
The reporting data is crucial for communities struggling with pollution from factory farms. In one high-profile instance, EPA relied on emissions data reported by Ohio’s largest egg producer to address dangerously high concentrations of hazardous air pollutants released into a neighboring community, securing a $1.4 million settlement for local air pollution controls.
“It defies logic. EPA is attempting to do away with the very rules it has used to bring polluting factory farms into compliance,” said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. “Requiring polluters to report toxic releases is essential to keeping communities informed about public health risks and is the first step in reducing these risks.”
Today’s comments were submitted by Earthjustice on behalf of groups in the following states:
Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Read the comments (PDF)