Before Florence, EPA Weakened Protections for CAFO Neighbors
After Hurricane Florence the road to recovery is long and hard for North Carolina neighbors of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), dangerous industrial facilities that produce animals for food. CAFOs contaminate air, surface waters, and drinking water with many health-harming pollutants, and they are hotbeds of drug-resistant bacteria (or “superbugs”). Neighbors suffer disproportionately from antibiotic-resistant infections and other health and quality of life issues. In the weeks leading up to Hurricane Florence, the Trump Administration took steps to weaken protections for CAFO-neighbors by deprioritizing law enforcement at these sites. Those changes go into effect on October 1, as many North Carolinians, especially communities of color, are struggling to return to their normal lives.
Although EPA has not done enough to curb pollution from CAFOs, the agency long acknowledged that these dangerous facilities deserve special enforcement attention. For years, EPA focused “federal resources on the most important environmental problems” in a National Enforcement Initiative. In 2016, the EPA renewed its focus on CAFOs because:
Animal waste is a significant contributor to serious water quality issues and can result in environmental and human health risks such as water quality impairment, fish kills, algal blooms, contamination of drinking water sources, and transmission of disease-causing bacteria and parasites associated with food and waterborne diseases. . . . These impacts are often acutely felt in rural communities of environmental justice concern.
But in the weeks leading up to Hurricane Florence, the Trump Administration had already started to abandon CAFO neighbors, even those in greatest need in environmental justice communities. In late August, the agency quietly announced that it would be revamping its priority enforcement program and phasing out its special focus on CAFOs. Starting in October 2018, CAFOs will no longer be an enforcement or compliance priority for EPA. The memo from the enforcement head stated simply that CAFO enforcement will be returned to regular program offices without any indication that compliance with the law has improved in the sector. As CAFO neighbors in rural North Carolina work to pick up the pieces and try to return to their lives, there will be one less layer of protection afforded to them by the federal government.
This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.