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, EPA’s 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 air requirements."
The offer, announced Friday, is the agency’s
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.
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
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 haze.
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 several years.
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
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.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPCC) praised
the offer and said the monitoring would provide the
“sound scientific data” needed to reduce
emissions from farms.
“This has been a long, exhaustive and costly endeavor
that NPPC has led on behalf of America’s pork
producers for the past three years,” said Dave
Roper, chairman of NPPC’s 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 EPA's plan.”
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 authorities’ authority to enforce local
odor or nuisance laws.
EPA will accept public comment on the agreement for
30 days following publication in the Federal Register.
For information on how to submit comments, click
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All