Pure Farms, Pure Waters

United States

Working with diverse partners to clean up the largest unaddressed water pollution crisis in the United States.

As control over livestock production is increasingly consolidated into the hands of a few multinational corporations, international trade agreements threaten to weaken environmental laws, open new markets and internationally expand the industrialized production system that has polluted rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways across the United States.  Domestic industrialized agriculture production – which produces roughly 1.1 billion tons of animal manure annually – is one of the largest unaddressed sources of water pollution in the United States. It is directly, and indirectly, causing coastal hypoxia, eutrophication, toxic algal blooms, pathogen contamination, water depletion, and air pollution in most U.S. states.

Through its Pure Farms, Pure Waters Campaign, Waterkeeper Alliance has participated in virtually all of the major litigation and regulatory initiatives involving the livestock production industry in the U.S. and is widely recognized for having specialized expertise in the complex legal, factual and scientific issues associated with the industry.  Waterkeeper Alliance has worked to address air and water pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) at the national level; regionally in the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River Basin; and at the state and local level in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia.  

Successfully Eliminating EPA’s Illegal CAFO Exemptions from Hazardous Substance Reporting Laws

On April 15, 2015, Waterkeeper Alliance, along with the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the US, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Center for Food Safety, represented by Earthjustice, filed an action in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to force the U.S. EPA to withdraw an illegal rule that exempts CAFOs from federal laws hazardous substance reporting laws. After assuring the Court it would take action on these exemptions in response to a lawsuit we filed in 2009, the Court sent the rule back to the EPA for revision or revocation. However, EPA did nothing on the rule for the last 5 years – allowing untold quantities of hazardous pollution – including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia – to be released into the neighboring environment without informing potentially impacted communities or emergency responders. On September 23, 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor reopening the case and bringing our legal challenge to the illegal exemptions back before the Court.

After briefing and oral argument, on April 11, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order that overturns the 2008 EPA regulation that allowed CAFOs to evade federal reporting requirements for their dangerous emissions of hazardous air pollutants. The court made an important finding that we had “informational” standing to challenge the EPA’s rule because these releases are supposed to be disclosed to the public. The court also found that EPA was not authorized by Congress to exempt releases of hazardous substances from CAFO under CERCLA and EPCRA. In July, the court rejected an attempt by the pork and poultry industries to get the court to rehear the case. Pursuant to the Court’s decision, CAFOs must now – like other polluting industries – disclose their toxic emissions and notify government officials when air pollution levels exceed public safety thresholds. However, on July 17, 2017, in an attempt to further delay implementation, EPA filed a motion to stay the issuance of the court’s mandate for six months – we filed a response opposing EPA’s request.