EPA offers air-pollution immunity to factory farms

On Friday, Jan 21, 2005, the EPA offered factory farms a tempting tradeoff: more than two years of immunity from the Clean Air Act and certain toxic-discharge standards in exchange for participating in a data-collection program that would monitor air emissions from their facilities.

EPA enforcement honcho Thomas Skinner hailed the agreement in a statement as "a huge step forward" in the effort to reduce factory-farm emissions, while environmentalists say the deal stinks as bad as the mountains of steaming excrement responsible for the harmful pollutants these farms emit.

via Grist Magazine | By Amanda Griscom Little | 24 Jan 2005.

Over the past decade, as the meat, dairy, and egg industries have boomed and been consolidated, massive factories — known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs — have replaced many smaller-scale farms. The huge numbers of chickens, hogs, and heifers in these densely packed facilities produce even huger piles of waste, which in turn produce ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and particulates. Exactly how much of these pollutants, we don’t yet know; CAFOs’ emissions haven’t been systematically studied.

Bush officials say they need to gather emissions data before they can "make informed regulatory and policy determinations" about how to curb CAFO pollution, and they say their new plan is just the way to do it. In exchange for amnesty for air violations during the next two years, as well as any previous infractions, CAFOs participating in the voluntary program will fund emissions monitoring.

"The Clean Air Act as designed didn’t have huge feeding operations in mind; [CAFOs are] different from most of the things it regulates," EPA press secretary Cynthia Bergman told Muckraker. Data gathered via the new system will yield "a representative sampling from which we can estimate the emissions from all kinds of farms around the country," she said. "This way we can get far more [CAFOs] into compliance than by the traditional case-by-case approach." The agency touts the collaborative nature of its plan, saying that a strategy of slapping lawsuits one by one on CAFOs that violate Clean Air Act standards would be too costly and time-consuming. Bergman stresses that the deal requires all participating facilities to come into compliance with the law once the monitoring project is complete.