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Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Decision to Exempt Factory Farms From Reporting Hazardous Air Pollution

July 01, 2019
Center for Food Safety

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Decision to Exempt Factory Farms From Reporting Hazardous Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Community and conservation groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for overstepping its authority in exempting factory farms from pollution-reporting requirements essential to public safety, environmental health, and animal welfare.

The lawsuit seeks to ensure that industrial-scale livestock and poultry operations report their toxic releases of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). 

The suit was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September 2018, challenging the EPA's earlier attempts to hamper the law's mandatory pollution reporting obligations by unlawfully posting instructions on its website and characterizing those instructions as "guidance." Today's filing supplements that action to include claims challenging the rule finalized earlier this month by the EPA that codifies this impermissible exemption. 

Federal pollution-reporting requirements are designed to guarantee that communities and emergency responders have access to information necessary to protect themselves against harmful exposure to hazardous substances like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The reporting requirements also provide information that is crucial to developing effective emergency-response and preparedness plans.

Exposure to ammonia and hydrogen sulfide released from the highly concentrated animal waste produced by factory farms can cause many human health problems, including respiratory diseases, nasal and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, and even death. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide releases also can contaminate air, water, and soil, and harm wildlife and the health of farm animals confined in these facilities.

Though practically all factory farms release ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in some amount, the federal reporting requirements at issue in today's lawsuit apply solely to facilities large enough to release pollution at a level that triggers the law's threshold reporting obligations.

Today's lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Don't Waste Arizona, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Sound Rivers and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Statements From the Groups

"Once again, Trump's EPA is siding with corporate polluters at the expense of the public's health and safety," said Ryan Talbott, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety. "People who live near factory farms have a right to know whether the air they breathe is safe. It boggles the mind that EPA's policy to address the toxic emissions of factory farms is to tell the people who live near them to 'breathe at your own risk.'"

"Trump's EPA wants meat factories to keep their toxic air emissions secret, despite a clear statutory mandate to disclose, once again promoting the interest of some of the worst polluters at the expense of public health," said Carrie Apfel, a staff attorney for Earthjustice's Sustainable Food and Farming Program. "What EPA is doing is illegal, and an affront to rural families that have every right to know what's in the air they breathe."

"Rather than address pollution issues, the EPA would prefer to hide information about pollution," said Forrest English, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper with Sound Rivers. "It is critical that information about toxic releases from these facilities remains public so that communities in our watershed and beyond can evaluate the impacts to the health of people and our environment."

"CAFOs are known to release hazardous pollutants that can pose serious risks of illness or death near homes, schools, businesses and communities," said Kelly Foster, a senior attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. "It is EPA's responsibility to protect the public by ensuring information about these releases is disclosed — not to keep devising new legal strategies to help industry keep it secret."

"Citizens have a right to know if hazardous chemical releases are affecting their health. EPCRA reporting was designed by Congress to put this information in their hands," said Steve Brittle, president of Don't Waste Arizona.

"The same factory farms that confine billions of animals without regard for those animals' pain or suffering continue to show the same disregard for human health as well as wildlife in rural communities," said Peter Brandt, managing attorney for Farm Animals for the Humane Society of the United States. "The last thing these animal factories should receive from the EPA is another free pass to continue polluting our air with no consequences."

"In eliminating these very reasonable pollution-reporting requirements for the country's largest factory farms, the Trump EPA is attempting to replace Congress's unambiguously expressed intent with its own," said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Concealing dangerous emissions from factory farms puts rural communities, emergency responders and wildlife at greater risk."

"There are around 40,000 factory farm hogs within four miles of my house, and we deserve to know the health impacts of their air pollution," says Rosemary Partridge, an Iowa farmer and Food & Water Watch member. "We believe the factory farms near our house are having a devasting impact on our health -- my husband has been diagnosed with C.O.P.D., which has worsened since the two factory farms nearest our home began operating. It's time for the EPA to do its job and protect farming communities from these industrial polluters."

"Animals kept in factory farms suffer damaging effects to their respiratory health from ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases," said Stephen Wells, executive director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. "EPA's unlawful exempting of the factory farm industry from reporting those noxious gases is yet another example of the industry successfully sweeping animal suffering under the rug."