Groups Contest Pollution Reporting Exemption for Factory Farms
WASHINGTON, DC, March 28, 2008 (ENS) - More than 70 groups from 27 states are objecting to a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would exempt factory farms from reporting emissions of hazardous gases from animal waste.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice submitted formal comments on behalf of the groups, which include family farmers and environmental advocates who say the federal agency's proposal will harm people living and working near factory farms.

They object that "EPA's proposed administrative reporting exemption for hazardous emissions at AFOs [animal feeding operations] is unlawful and arbitrary and should not be finalized."

"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, who helped the groups to file their comments during the public comment window which closed Thursday.

"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," he said.

Concentrated animal feeding operation along a highway in Iowa. Each building holds up to 3,000 pigs. (Photo by Elise Bauer)

Under the proposed rule change, large chicken production facilities, hog confinements, and cattle feeding operations would no longer have to report releases of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxic gases.

The EPA says that the source and nature of such pollution makes an emergency response “unnecessary, impractical and unlikely,” and that the proposal “is protective of human health and the environment.”

The federal agency says this proposed rule "would reduce the burden on the regulated community of complying with these reporting requirements and allow emergency responders to focus on hazardous substance releases that would require a response."

But reporting is not onerous or difficult. One telephone call or online report submission to the National Response Center fulfills the requirement to report the release of hazardous substances.

"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."

The rule change would drop reporting requirements for hazardous air releases from big animal-feeding operations such as Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Oregon, 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.

Family farms across American have given way to large-scale industrial animal feeding operations. The federal government estimates that animal density at poultry, swine, dairy and cattle operations has increased on average between 50 and 176 percent.

Earthjustice argues that the EPA proposed the rule change in December 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, Earthjustice points out, citing a study which found that 19 workers at factory farms in Iowa were killed from hydrogen sulfide released during manure agitation.

"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," said Edwards.

The EPA says release notifications must still be made to emergency response authorities when hazardous substances are released to the air from sources other than animal waste, such as ammonia tanks, as well as releases of hazardous substances to soil and water.

Today's comments were submitted by Earthjustice on behalf of groups in - 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.

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