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EPA Denies Factory Farm Water Pollution Petition

EPA "misses the moment" to address mounting factory farm pollution crisis

August 15, 2023
Center for Food Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C — Today, EPA denied a 2017 petition submitted by Food & Water Watch and dozens of co-petitioners, including Center for Food Safety, which urged EPA to strengthen its factory farm water pollution regulations under the Clean Water Act. EPA's decision to reject these needed reforms came in response to a lawsuit for unreasonable delay in answering the petition; instead, EPA has announced that it will form a Federal Advisory Committee subcommittee to study the CAFO pollution problem and make recommendations for the agency. The lengthy process, expected to begin in 2024 and last 12-18 months, means the Biden administration may miss the opportunity to strengthen its factory farm regulations.

Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen said: "Factory farms pose a significant and mounting threat to clean water, largely because EPA's weak rules have left most of the industry entirely unregulated. EPA's deeply flawed response amounts to yet more delay, and completely misses the moment. For more than 50 years, EPA has knowingly shirked its crystal clear obligation to regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. The lack of urgency displayed in EPA's decision doubles down on the agency's failure to protect our water, and those who rely on it — but the fight to safeguard clean water is far from over. We are considering all of our options moving forward."

"We know that animal factories are a huge source of water pollution and that our freshwater is in crisis, and yet EPA has failed to uphold its duty to protect our environment from this industry," said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with petitioner Center for Food Safety. "We have a right to clean and safe water and we cannot afford to wait any longer to stop the tide of pollution from animal factories."

Factory farms operate like sewerless cities, generating unsustainable amounts of waste that all too often contaminates drinking water with cancer-causing nitrates, floods homes with waste during storms and natural disasters, and renders water recreation unsafe. All told, factory farm pollution threatens or impairs over 14,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 90,000 acres of lakes and ponds nationwide, yet fewer than one third of the country's largest 21,000+ largest factory farms have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

The 2017 petition sought to improve both the quantity and quality of CAFO permits by subjecting more factory farms to regulation and strengthening pollution permits for the facilities. The 33 petitioners include six national public interest advocacy organizations, and twenty-seven state and community-based organizations, collectively representing millions of members and supporters.

"North Carolina is the nation's second largest pork producing state, littering our rural communities with hundreds of polluting factory farms. Merely a handful of these enormous operations are regulated by EPA, doing nothing to protect North Carolinians from their pollution burden. President Biden's voiced commitment to environmental justice must extend to the agricultural industry — EPA has a responsibility to protect clean water in all communities," said Rania Masri, Co-Director of Organizing and Policy at North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. "We will not stop fighting until all our water is free from factory farm filth."

"For 15 years, the industrialized factory farm model has only expanded, generating unprecedented volumes of polluting animal waste. Communities are left to shoulder the burden of the fallout, which include contaminated drinking water, plunging property values, human health threats, and severe quality of life issues," said Nancy Utesch of Wisconsin-based Kewaunee CARES. "EPA has fallen dreadfully short in delivering real actions and responses to long suffering citizenry impacted by this Goliath industry. The time for action, without further delay, is now."

"When raising our three sons, we lived across the road from the beach and we swam there many summers with our kids. Unfortunately, swimming there these days is not a safe option for my grandchildren," said Julie Duhn, an Iowa CCI member from Hardin County. "The beach at Lower Pine Lake has been on the 'Swimming not Recommended' list every single week since the beginning of testing this summer. We need EPA to quit dragging its feet and actually do something to protect our water from corporate polluters."

"Industrial animal feeding operations should be treated like any other industrial polluter," said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. "Unfortunately, EPA continues to give this industry special treatment."

"Today's EPA decision kicks the can down the road instead of acting to protect rural communities and our nation's waterways," said Ben Lilliston, Director of Rural Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "Rather than seize this moment to act, EPA chose to further a special exemption for factory farms that benefits global meat companies while undermining independent farmers raising animals in ways that protect our water."

The petitioners are represented by Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center.

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