The Bush administration has made a deal that will let thousands of factory-style farms off the hook on pollution fines in connection to their role in fouling the air and water with animal excrement. Their claim is that this is being done in exchange for “data to help curb future pollution.” Factory farms are known to be the among the worst corporate polluters in the nation.
The Environmental Protection Agency has signed agreements with 2,681 animal feeding operations in the egg, chicken, turkey, dairy and hog industries. They would be exempt from having to pay potential fines of up to $27,500 a day for violations either in the past or over the next four years.
On Monday, the EPA said its Environmental Appeals Board had approved the first 20 of those agreements, selecting accords it thought were representative of the whole. EPA officials said those approvals set the stage for the remaining agreements to gain approval quickly.
The agreements include 10 swine-raising operations and 10 operations that raise egg-laying birds. The board said it determined that the agreements were consistent with the Clean Air Act, including its penalty provisions.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson’s agriculture adviser Jon Scholl, said “the agreements are the most efficient way of obtaining the data needed to determine whether the animal feeding operations are complying with federal air emission laws.” What this is really about, is the longstanding habit of the Bush administration letting corporate polluters off the hook.
The EPA said its consent agreements with the animal feeding operations will cover more than 6,700 farms in 42 states. Another 7,000 farms are covered through Tyson Foods Inc., but because contract growers are independent business owners, the company said only that it will gain the exemptions.
The participating farms range from relatively small dairy operations, with perhaps five dozen cows, to large hog and dairy operations with tens of thousands of animals. Randy Spronk, chairman of the National Pork Producers Council’s environmental policy committee, said the agreements will allow the EPA “to use sound science to develop practical policies that work for pork producers of all sizes and types.”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote extensively about factory farms in his book, Crimes Against Nature. Corporate farmers frequently use smaller “contract farms” to skirt their responsibility in paying pollution fines. This creates a catch 22 situation, because the smaller contract farms tend to be family farms that can not afford to pay the fines.
The pollutants the EPA claims will be monitored include soot and volatile organic compounds. This monitoring is required by the Clean Air Act, and the monitoring of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, is required by the Superfund’s emergency reporting provision.
By signing on, the farms agree to abide by clean air, hazardous waste and emergency reporting laws after the data is collected. This buys the corporate farms a full four years or more of any responsibility to their contribution of being perhaps the largest polluters in the country.
Already, environmentalists plan to file suit challenging the new consent arrangements.
“This decision is a great disservice for people who live around large factory farms,” said Ed Hopkins, environmental quality director for the Sierra Club. “It basically gives these farms a free ride on the backs of the public. There’s really nothing in this that holds the polluters accountable for the toxic air emissions they release.”