EPA Deal Allows Factory Farms To Avoid Air
WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2005 (ENS) The
Bush administration has offered factory farms immunity from some
federal clean air regulations in exchange for allowing the federal
government to monitor their air pollution.
Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection
say the deal will make it easier to finalize air regulations for
concentrated animal farm operations (CAFOs) and to ensure
compliance with current regulations, but will not result in
immediate emission reductions.
"This agreement is a huge step forward," said
Thomas Skinner, EPA¹s acting assistant administrator for
enforcement and compliance assurance. "It will allow us to reach
the largest number of animal feeding operations in the shortest
period of time and ensure that they comply with applicable clean
The offer, announced Friday, is the agency¹s
response to a 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences that
called for an improved method for estimating emission from large
scale livestock and poultry farms.
Over the past CAFO ten years, Wisconsin has
become home to an increasing number of Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations, operations with 1,000 or more animal units. (Photo
courtesy Wisconsin DNR)
These facilities have emerged in the past two
decades as the dominant force in meat production, but there are
serious environmental and public health concerns over operations
with capacities often in excess of one million animals.
CAFOs produce large amounts of ammonia and
hydrogen sulfide, both of which have been linked with respiratory
ailments and are on the priority list of hazardous substances
created under the Superfund law.
In addition, feed and manure dust are considered
particulate matter a criteria pollutant under the Clean Air Act
that is linked with respiratory ailments and is a main source of
But the EPA says it needs more data on farm air
emissions to determine violations of existing regulations and to
develop emission standards specific to the industry.
Operators participating in the agreement will
pay a civil penalty of between $200 and $100,000, based on the
size and number of farms in their operation that fee grants them
immunity from past and present Superfund, Clean Air Act and
Community to Know Act violations, as well as violations that may
occur while the EPA is finalizing regulations over the next
Participants will also pay $2,500 into a fund
that will cover the cost of the two year emissions monitoring
Officials say once regulations have been
established, operators will be required to apply for all
applicable air permits, install all needed controls, implement all
required practices, and otherwise come into full compliance.
Some 4,000 farms mostly hog and chicken
producers are expected to participate, according to the EPA,
with about 30 of those farms set for monitoring.
Swine feeding operation in Arkansas (Photo
courtesy Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission)
The National Pork Producers Council (NPCC)
praised the offer and said the monitoring would provide the ³sound
scientific data² needed to reduce emissions from farms.
"This has been a long, exhaustive and costly
endeavor that NPPC has led on behalf of America¹s pork producers
for the past three years," said Dave Roper, chairman of NPPC¹s
Environment Committee and an Idaho pork producer. "I urge all pork
producers to seriously consider signing the consent agreement."
But the close cooperation between industry and
the EPA has alarmed environmentalists, who believe the agreement
is a backroom, sweetheart deal that delays cleanup and enforcement
of harmful air emissions from factory farms.
"EPA's giveaway to the livestock industry is
troubling to those downwind of factory farms and sends the wrong
message to other polluting industries," said Joe Rudek, senior
scientist with Environmental Defense.
Rudek notes that although any producer that
signs up would receive a waiver from enforcement, emissions from
only a small number of farms would actually be monitored.
"EPA clearly has the authority to require
monitoring of air emissions and relinquishes far too much of its
control in this voluntary program," Rudek said. "Industry should
pay to monitor its pollution, and it should also be required to
collect data that document the full impact of emissions on air
quality, rather than making the limited measurements called for in
The impacts of CAFO air pollution can be severe
a 1999 University of North Carolina study, for example, found
that people living near large hog farms suffer high levels of
upper respiratory ailments.
And a study published last month by researchers
at Johns Hopkins raised concerns that people could be exposed to
antibiotic resistant bacteria from breathing the air from
concentrated swine feeding facilities.
Researchers detected bacteria resistant to at
least two antibiotics in air samples collected from inside a large
scale swine operation in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The EPA says the agreement does not limit its
ability to take action "in the event of imminent and substantial
danger to public health or the environment."
Operators that are the subject of current
enforcement actions may be barred from joining the study,
according to the agency, and the agreement also preserves state
and local authorities¹ authority to enforce local odor or nuisance
EPA will accept public comment on the agreement
for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.