United Poultry Concerns September 29 , 2003


The New York Times, Jennifer S. Lee, September 25, 2003

Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a policy of permitting industrial-size animal farms to avoid federal lawsuits for air pollution if those farms pay a $500 penalty and $2,500 to finance a program to monitor air quality near the farms, according to internal documents. The amnesty would last the duration of the air-monitoring program, which is not specified in the document but which officials said would be about two years. After that, the farms would have to apply for emissions permits from local governments. At minimum, however, they would still have to meet federal air quality standards.

"This is an effort to get an industry that has not been traditionally regulated under the Clean Air Act into our system," said Robert Kaplan, director of special litigation and projects at the environmental agency. The proposal, which is not final, is a response to one made by industry groups earlier this year. The amnesty would cover only lawsuits by the federal government, not by state governments.

Large hog or chicken farms, which house thousands of animals, have been a growing concern in many farming areas. These operations generate millions of gallons of animal waste and hundreds of tons of fecal dust each year. In the case of hog farms, the waste is often gathered into open-air cesspools that release hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane gases, all of which are toxic in high concentrations. Thousands of Americans have attributed their respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue and even brain damage to air pollution from these large-scale farms.

Environmental groups are criticizing the "safe harbor" plan as too open-ended, by giving amnesty to all farms when only a few would actually be monitored. The groups say the lack of deadlines and expiration dates is unusual for consent agreements that the federal government signs with industry. "They are basically selling out the Clean Air Act and communities which live near these facilities for $3,000 a head," said Michele Merkel, a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project.

Lawyers at the agency
say that universal amnesty is the most efficient way to create a system of pollution controls. Industry groups say that enforcement has been haphazard and that the lack of standards means that factory farms have no idea whether or not they are in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

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