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 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
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 program.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights Reserved.