PIGS AND POLITICS
From Jim Lehrer's NEWSHOUR on PBS, Ch 13, June 3, 2004
PROGRAM a-z go to N for NEWSHOUR)
June 3, 2004
A group of prominent American scientists recently wrote
a report accusing the Bush administration of "misrepresenting and
suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes." Jeffrey Kaye
explores the intersection of politics and science on one North Carolina pig
Online NewsHour Special Coverage:
Dec. 17, 2003:
The presence of salmon in the waterways of the Pacific Northwest have been
increasing in recent years, but the Bush administration and some
climatologists disagree over who can take the credit. .
Dec. 11, 2003:
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was named the new EPA administrator in early
November and has made some significant changes in how the agency regulates
JEFFREY KAYE: Climate change and air pollution.
Endangered species. Forest management.
On these and many other topics, President Bush came
under criticism earlier this year from 60 prominent scientists for, in their
words, "misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political
purposes." The critics included 20 Nobel Laureates. At the same time, the
Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report, "Scientific Integrity In
Policy Making," that listed instances of what it described as the
administration's "misuse of science."
The president's science adviser, John Marburger, fired
back with a point-by-point rebuttal. He called the accusations "wrong and
misleading, inaccurate." And he said "the administration is applying the
highest scientific standards in decision-making."
One example in North Carolina
One intersection of science and politics is the $100
billion a year livestock industry, in particular, industrial pig farms.
Consolidation over the last ten to fifteen years has
resulted in fewer but larger swine operations. Animal waste is a major
pollutant, and environmentalists are at odds with the Bush administration
over the use of science in its regulation.
North Carolina's ten million hogs produce twice as much
feces and urine as the populations of the cities of Los Angeles, New York
and Chicago combined. Industrial farms, most with thousands of hogs each,
store the waste in open-air pits, called lagoons. They spray the waste,
untreated, as manure on adjacent fields.
Neighbors say the stench can be unbearable. The Morning
Star Baptist church in Battleboro is about half a mile from a large hog
Evelyn Powell runs the church day care center.
EVELYN POWELL: The kids say it stinks out there. They
get nauseous, they get sick when it is at a high pitch, and they are unable
to go outside and play and enjoy our quality of life at the day care.
McARTHER KING: I like to walk everyday, but sometimes I
come out, I can't even walk because the odor is so bad.
JEFFREY KAYE: Powell calls the lagoons "open air
toilets," and notes residents have to keep their septic tanks covered.
EVELYN POWELL: The hog farmers can open theirs up and
just be a great big football field full of manure all day long and we are
supposed to smell it and accept it. I think it should be unconstitutional to
mess up somebody's community, the way they have messed ours up.
JEFFREY KAYE: Environmental activists such as Rick Dove
of the Riverkeeper Alliance charge that pig waste
creates more than just a stink.
RICK DOVE: The land that you're looking at is also very
poorly suited for this kind of operation.
JEFFREY KAYE: Dove takes visitors on aerial tours of
industrial pig operations. The farms, concentrated in the eastern part of
the state, produce more manure than the land can absorb, according to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dove often spots pig waste from sprayers
being spread on saturated fields, running off into waterways.
RICK DOVE: Wetlands normally process nutrients, and
they're the place where the algae grows. They're sort of the filters of the
water before it's released to the ocean. The problem is though, you're
looking at wetlands that are completely overburdened. These wetlands are
being worked to death trying to process these nutrients that run off these
How do livestock operations affect residents?
JEFFREY KAYE: Eastern North Carolina is crisscrossed by
drainage ditches. One runs by the house near Stantonburg where Buddy Joiner
Junior and his Son Steve have lived for more than 30 years.
BUDDY JOINER, JR.: It comes off the hog farm and goes
all the way around my lot back to the sandpit pipe, there.
JEFFREY KAYE: Hog waste from the spray field across the
street runs off into ditch water, which often glistens with grease and
Researchers have found polluted well water near some
hog farms. The Joiners say their well is contaminated.
BUDDY JOINER, JR.: You see how close it is to the
ditch? And this drainoff from the hog farm, you can
see how close it is to my well.
JEFFREY KAYE: Public outcry has led the state of North
Carolina to ban new or expanded large-scale livestock operations. But the
hog industry says most farmers abide by strict state rules.
GERALD WARREN: If anybody wants to be responsible, it's
me because I live here.
JEFFREY KAYE: Gerald Warren, who has 40,000 pigs, says
farmers have to file hog waste management plans with the state. Of
particular concern is nitrogen which can be a pollutant.
GERALD WARREN: So we know specifically how much waste
they're going to generate and how much nitrogen is going to be produced and
how much spray area that we're going to have to have to apply that nitrogen
and do it in a responsible way so that it can be taken up and used by crops
and that we don't have any contamination of nitrogen in the groundwater.
JEFFREY KAYE: But environmentalists say farmers often
ignore waste management plans. And last year, the General Accounting Office,
the investigative arm of Congress, said loopholes in federal regulations and
inconsistent enforcement leave an estimated 60 percent of the largest animal
WORKER: You ready?
VINEY ANEJA: Yes.
JEFFREY KAYE: To provide regulators with useful data,
scientists are trying to get a better handle on air emissions from hog
farms. A team led by Viney Aneja, professor of air quality and environmental
technology at North Carolina State University is measuring ammonia released
from a hog waste lagoon.
VINEY ANEJA: This is a device that helps us... tells us
how much gases are coming out from the lagoon.
JEFFREY KAYE: Gases from the lagoon are flushed into a
mobile laboratory for analysis.
VINEY ANEJA: Those gases are being flushed out and
being analyzed in the instrument inside, a spectroscopic instrument inside
which is an ammonia analyzer.
JEFFREY KAYE: Ammonia releases nitrogen into the
atmosphere. When it falls to earth, it can damage the environment.
VINEY ANEJA: For example, it can acidify the soil over
a long period of time, it can lead to over- enrichment of soil thereby
degrading sensitive ecosystems. But equally importantly, it can have a
direct impact on the atmospheric environment which can lead to the formation
of fine particulate matter or PM Fine, as it is called.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fine particulate matter can cause haze as
well as respiratory and eye problems. Researchers are also collecting air
samples to try to analyze odor.
JESSICA BLUNDEN: We are collecting smells. And anything
that is in the ambient air really. But really what we are looking for is the
compounds that are causing the odors here on the farms.
JEFFREY KAYE: The science done around hog farms leads
to a basic conclusion says Eric Schaeffer.
ERIC SCHAEFFER: You're dealing with an operation that's
as big and as tough and as dirty, in fact, dirtier, than a refinery or a
JEFFREY KAYE: Schaeffer would police the swine industry
by measuring the pollution output of hog barns the same way factories are
monitored. Schaeffer, now head of the Environmental Integrity Project, was
chief of civil enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the
EPA. He quit in 2002 because he says when the Bush administration came in,
his superiors would not allow him to move as aggressively as he wanted.
ERIC SCHAEFFER: Our thought was to go into those
operations and get them to test their emissions. It, it's their
responsibility to know what they're putting into the environment. The way it
was put to me is, if there's a imminent and substantial endangerment, and we
can prove that, then perhaps that would be okay. But that's a high threshold
and the signals I was getting was, it's, it's over. The party's over for
JEFFREY KAYE: Robert Kaplan, who is currently at the
EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement, says the agency did reconsider its
policing of huge livestock operations.
ROBERT KAPLAN: And I think people did put on the brakes
and say "wait we have let good science guide good decisions." That
definitely happened. And there was a review of the cases at the time.
The EPA's actions on the situation
JEFFREY KAYE: EPA officials say the decision was made
at the urging of the livestock industry. Meat producers contended that
regulation of industrial livestock operations was getting ahead of the
Dave Roper is past president of the National Pork
DAVE ROPER: There isn't sufficient data out there and
we're trying to help the EPA get this sufficient data, to identify what the
threshold is, what the look-up chart would be.
JEFFREY KAYE: In 2001, the meat industry persuaded the
EPA to delay strict enforcement of clean air rules, and to instead fund a
National Academies of Science study of the issue. Their report, released one
year later, found industrial farms were sources of several critical
RUSSELL DICKERSON: Pollutants that are tied to:
Morbidity and mortality among American people; to eco-system damage; surface
systems; forests and grass lands; aquatic systems like estuaries and fresh
water lakes and streams.
JEFFREY KAYE: Russell Dickerson, an atmospheric
chemist, and Rick Kohn, an animal scientist, both at the University of
Maryland, were among the study's authors. Their report did urge more
research, but it also faulted the government for failing to adequately test
and limit air emissions from livestock operations.
RUSSELL DICKERSON: We know we have to control ammonia
emissions from agricultural practices.
JEFFREY KAYE: With some urgency.
RUSSELL DICKERSON: Indeed. I think it's time to act
JEFFREY KAYE: The report also offered a roadmap for
regulators. The scientists recommended that pollutants from livestock
operations be calculated by subtracting the amount of nitrogen in the
animals from the amount in the food they eat. But the EPA did not step up
enforcement after the academies' report came out. Citing the need for
further research, the EPA is working out a legal agreement proposed by the
industry that would further delay enforcement. Under the deal, farms which
agree to participate in a two- year pollution study will be forgiven for
past air pollution violations.
ROBERT KAPLAN: What the agreement says is: As long as
you are definitely on the road to compliance, in short order, definitely on
the road to compliance, we will not sue you. What we want to do is get the
best possible data to drive the establishment of solid credible
scientifically based emissions factors. And I think we are being responsive
to the National Academy of Sciences.
JEFFREY KAYE: Kaplan says the agreement will allow the
EPA to do needed research and deal with an entire industry rather than
engage in protracted legal battles with individual farms. But Schaeffer
believes that in the name of science, the Bush administration is giving the
industry just what it wants: time.
ERIC SCHAEFFER: Delay means money. I mean, time is
money for the industry. So, rather than turn this again into an academic
question that we're going to sort of ponder and study for years and years
and years, why not use the authority the government already has, to order
the company to stop the nuisance, to do something about the problem.
JEFFREY KAYE: So while activists argue science provides
a basis for immediate action, the livestock industry and government say gaps
in the research demand a longer timetable. Caught in the middle are people
who live next to hog farms who see no resolution to their complaints anytime
Please thank Jim Lehrer for this report and suggest he
air PEACEABLE KINGDOM:
Fair Use Notice: This document may contain
copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the
copyright owners. We believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on
the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for
in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted
material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain
permission from the copyright owner.