By: Larissa Liebmann
H.R. 848 is a blatant attempt to prevent the public from taking action to protect themselves against dangerous pollution caused by industrial-scale confined livestock facilities. Introduced by Representative Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington’s 4th district, H.R. 848 takes away a legal tool from the public – the ability to sue hog, dairy, cattle, and poultry Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) when their mismanagement of animal waste contaminates water and even when it endangers human health.
When excess animal waste is improperly stored or spread onto land, nutrients like nitrates are released and can enter the surface water and groundwater. Nitrates in drinking water are undetectable without a test – you cannot taste, smell, or see them. But high levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause a life-threatening condition – especially in infants – where the blood is unable to carry enough oxygen, and can cause cancer. In surface water, animal waste pollutants cause oxygen depletion, dangerous bacteria, and toxic algae.
When residents of Yakima Valley, Washington found that their drinking water sources were polluted by nitrates from the disposal of manure from nearby dairy CAFOs, they joined forces with public interest groups and sued the industrial dairy producers. This case led to a very important court decision that animal waste can be regulated as a solid waste under the RCRA. Usually, because manure can be a beneficial fertilizer when used properly, it is exempt from RCRA. This court decision recognized that when manure is disposed of in excess of the crop’s needs and without appropriately managing the waste, it is a discarded material properly treated as solid waste under RCRA. This means that animals have to be safely managed and that people can bring lawsuits under RCRA when irresponsible animal waste disposal pollutes their drinking water.
Newhouse, who has received $400,000 in agricultural donations since 2002, introduced H.R. 848 just two years after this court decision. H.R. 848 would essentially overrule the court decision and take away the public’s ability to bring lawsuits under RCRA against agricultural operations that improperly dispose of their animal waste. This bill would have the biggest impact on rural farming communities that rely on individual wells and whose waterways are polluted by CAFOs, but it is also a part of a bigger trend of industrial agricultural companies using their financial power to push for bills that will shield themselves from liability and push the costs of their operations on the communities around them.
Therefore, we are asking that you stand up to Big Ag this week, and call your Representative:
“My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a resident of ZIP code [ZIP CODE]. I am calling today to express my concerns about proposed bill H.R. 848. I am opposed to H.R. 848 because it would limit the ability of communities to sue companies that pollute their drinking water. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to shield industrial agriculture operations from lawsuits that would force them to responsibly dispose of their waste. When industrial agriculture does not properly dispose of manure, the waterways and groundwater of communities bear the price. Because I believe that the health of communities is more important than industrial agricultural profits, I am asking you to oppose H.R. 848. Thank you.”
Tip: H.R. 848 already has 48 cosponsors! Before calling, check if your Representative is one of them here, and ask that they withdraw their support.