WASHINGTON (October 26, 2000) - Yesterday's announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency that it will designate some egg producers "environmental leaders" and exempt them from individual Clean Water Act permitting requirements is a travesty, says a national environmental organization.
"There's something rotten here," says Nancy Stoner of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "EPA should fine egg producers for fouling our waterways, polluting our air, and endangering workers -- not give them awards for finally deciding to clean up their act."
This new EPA-egg producer program is part of the agency's Project XL (eXcellence and Leadership), which is supposed to encourage state and local governments, businesses and federal facilities to work with EPA to develop better ways to protect the environment.
Growing concentration in the egg production industry has driven most small farmers out of business, replacing them with huge, factory-like facilities that often house more than 1 million birds, Stoner points out. These facilities dump untreated chicken manure into lakes and streams, killing fish and contaminating drinking water.
"These mega-egg farms generate such an enormous volume of manure, dead chickens and broken eggs that the only way we can protect public health and our waterways is with strict regulation," says Stoner. "Yet this new proposal would rely primarily on having these farms police themselves. That's like letting the fox guard the chicken coup."
Here are just a few of the factory farms this new proposal would call "environmental leaders": Buckeye Egg in Licking County, Ohio, which is going to trial in October for water pollution, safe drinking water, clean air, solid waste, and nuisance violations, including illegally burying dead chickens and egg shells, and causing a major fish kill; DeCoster Egg in Turner County, Maine, which was fined $3.6 million in 1996 by the Department of Labor for working conditions "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have ever seen," according to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; Johnson County Egg in Missouri, which was issued five notices of violation for discharging chicken manure into rivers without a Clean Water Act permit; and Gates Brothers in Orange County, North Carolina, which was shut down by state officials last March when its 5-million-gallon waste lagoon began to leak at a rate of 60 gallons per hour.
"Mega-egg producers, like any industrial polluter, should be closely regulated, not given a special deal," says Stoner. "EPA should encourage facilities to use sustainable production methods, not provide breaks for scofflaws."