Once again, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is walking back its commitment to revise or eliminate an illegal rule exempting factory farms from hazardous air pollution-reporting requirements that are essential to protecting public health and the environment.
Instead, EPA published a notice indicating the agency is now reconsidering whether it will take action to restore the hazardous air emission reporting required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) for industrial-scale livestock operations. These facilities can emit high levels of toxic pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from the massive amounts of animal waste produced there.
EPA is currently accepting comments from the public about this crucial issue. It is imperative we urge EPA to eliminate this exemption and require factory farms to disclose the hazardous air pollution impacting people and the environment across the country.
The public, particularly people living close to factory farms, have a right to know about the hazardous air pollution being released by these operations so they can protect their health and the health of their family members. However, EPA’s illegal exemption rule is allowing the industry to hide their dangerous, invisible pollution from the public and emergency responders. In addition to informing impacted people about dangerous pollution in the air they breathe, EPCRA’s pollution-reporting requirements are designed to guarantee that communities and emergency responders have access to information necessary to protect themselves against harmful exposure to hazardous substances like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The reporting requirements also provide information that is crucial to developing effective emergency-response and preparedness plans.
EPA’s November 9, 2023, notice is the latest attempt by the agency to shield factory farms from public scrutiny and, ultimately, from its responsibility to avoid doing harm to others. EPA is continuing to avoid eliminating this exemption despite a lawsuit that Waterkeeper Alliance and partners won in April 2017, in which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 2008 EPA rule exempting CAFOs from reporting hazardous air releases under EPCRA and another federal law was illegal. In defiance of this ruling EPA adopted guidance in 2018 and another rule in 2019 exempting the industry from EPCRA reporting, only to assure the D.C. District Court in 2022 that it would “rescind or revise” this illegal exemption in response to another lawsuit filed by Waterkeeper Alliance and partners.
EPA’s continued effort to shield this industry is alarming given the severity of threats the industry’s pollution poses to people and the environment. Exposure to ammonia and hydrogen sulfide released from the highly concentrated animal waste produced by factory farms can cause many human health problems, including respiratory diseases, nasal and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, and even death – often forcing people to stay indoors and forego fundamental aspects of rural life like gardening, cookouts, and allowing their children to play and explore outside. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide releases also can contaminate air, water and soil, and harm wildlife.
Compounding the harm, these factory farms are disproportionately sited near communities with environmental justice concerns, including those composed of people of color, low-income individuals, and children. Despite this grave harm and environmental injustice, EPA has consistently taken action to protect factory farms from their congressionally mandated duty under EPCRA to report releases of hazardous pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
A public comment period is now open on EPA’s notice through February 15, 2024. This exemption is dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal. EPA is obligated to eliminate it. This is your opportunity to tell EPA that enough is enough – when this industry releases hazardous pollution, people have the right to know when, where and how much.
Will you join us in telling EPA to eliminate this exemption and finally require factory farms to disclose their emissions of hazardous air pollutants as required by EPCRA? Submit your personalized comment today!