EPA Factory Farm Rule Puts Polluters First at Environment's Expense

WASHINGTON (December 16, 2002) -- The Environmental Protection Agency today will announce a final rule on controlling factory farm pollution that will allow agribusinesses to continue to foul the nation's waterways with animal waste, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Sierra Club. EPA was forced to finalize the new rule by December 15, 2002, under a 1992 judicial consent decree between NRDC and EPA.

"The final rule puts polluters first," said Melanie Shepherdson, an attorney with NRDC's Clean Water Project. "The Bush EPA gave agribusiness increased protection from liability for polluting our waterways. It's a sweet deal for factory farm polluters, but it stinks for the rest of us."

Large-scale animal factories, which raise thousands of animals and produce 220 billion gallons of manure annually, now dominate animal production across the country. These large-scale operations routinely over-apply liquid waste on land, which runs off into surface water, killing fish, spreading disease, and contaminating drinking water supplies. They also emit toxic fumes into the air.

"The Bush administration is perpetuating a system where corporate agribusiness can reap huge profits from factory farming and avoid responsibility for the pollution they generate," said Ken Midkiff, director of the Sierra Club's Factory Farm Campaign. "Why should taxpayers have to pay for the mess they make?"

Thirty years ago, Congress identified concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as point sources of water pollution to be regulated under the Clean Water Act's water pollution permitting program. However, the scale of animal production at individual operations has dramatically increased since then. As a result, the regulations that EPA developed in the 1970s are outdated and inadequate. The Clinton EPA proposed a new rule featuring several initiatives that would have protected the environment, but the Bush administration stripped them from the final rule after agribusinesses complained.

According to NRDC and Sierra Club, the final rule will:

  • Legalize discharges of runoff contaminated with nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and metals into already polluted rivers and streams;

  • Fail to update technology standards to tighten controls on water pollution, allowing factory farms to continue discharging raw waste;

  • Allow factory farms to write their own permit conditions;

  • Shield corporations that own the livestock from liability for the environmental damage they cause; and

  • Create new loopholes in the law, shielding factory farms from liability for animal wastes running off the land into waterways.

NRDC and Sierra Club have urged EPA to adopt a rule that would keep animal waste out of rivers and lakes, hold corporate owners responsible for spills, and guarantee adequate public participation. The groups say EPA's new rule does not meet these basic requirements.

This rule is yet another example of how contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign are getting what they paid for, Shepherdson added. She pointed out that during the 2000 election, the Bush-Cheney campaign received $2,636,625 from agribusiness, including $647,285 from the dairy, livestock, and poultry and egg industries. President Bush received more livestock industry contributions ($506,085) in the 2000 election campaign than any other federal candidate received between 1990 and 2000. (Source: www.opensecrets.org.)

NRDC and Sierra Club attorneys will review the rule's details and consider legal action.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Sierra Club's members are 700,000 of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. The club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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