M. Spencer Green/ Associated Press
Environmental groups claim the federal government has violated the Clean Air Act by ignoring their pleas for greater restrictions on emissions from confined animal feeding operations.
The Humane Society of the United States and other groups have filed legal complaints alleging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn’t respond to petitions filed in 2009 and 2011 that demanded CAFOs be regulated as stationary sources of pollution, similar to factories.
The plaintiffs claim EPA’s lack of action violates a law governing administrative procedures and have asked a federal judge to force the agency to make a decision on Clean Air Act regulation of livestock facilities.
Environmental groups argue that CAFOs must be subject to stricter rules than traditional livestock farms because large numbers of animals are concentrated in relatively small areas.
The negative impacts on air quality are intensified because CAFOs are often “clustered” in close proximity to each other in some regions, the complaint said.
“Concentrating and feeding large populations of animals in one location generates enormous quantities of biological waste products, including feces and urine, as well as a variety of dangerous air pollutants, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter — emissions of which contribute to climate change, threaten public health and safety, and harm the environment,” the plaintiffs claim.
CAFOs are already regulated under the Clean Water Act and must obtain permits intended to prevent discharges.
The EPA acknowledged it does not directly regulate air emissions from CAFOs but said that a “National Air Emissions Monitoring Study” developed with the cooperation of livestock groups “is a first step in improving emissions estimates from this sector.”
The National Milk Producers Federation believes it’s too early for EPA to make any decisions on regulating CAFOs under the Clean Air Act because it’s still interpreting data collected at dairy, pork and egg farms, said Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications for the group.
The agency cannot simply assume that every large farm will have similar emissions, as they vary by locale and housing type, Galen said.
While the EPA finished gathering data about CAFO emissions in 2011, it’s still interpreting those results, he said.
“Any action without good data about ammonia emissions would be fruitless,” he said. “How would you regulate if you don’t know what’s coming from the farm?”
Galen said he did not want to speculate about whether CAFOs will ultimately fall under EPA’s Clean Air Act jurisdiction.
“I think it’s too soon to say,” he said.