New West
By Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel

This Christmas season those who play naughty received an early gift from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On December 21st the EPA announced a proposed rule change that would exempt large livestock operators from the need to report releases of hazardous substances to the air when they come from animal waste. Under the proposed rules, they would no longer need to disclose hazards like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to local, state and federal agencies.

The EPA argues that this approach is “better” for reporting hazardous contamination because farms are burdened with current reporting requirements.

But in a recent response, Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program wrote, “Once again Bush’s EPA is poised to put polluters before public health. EPA’s new proposal would let factory farms off the hook for releasing hazardous chemicals into our air- exempting these large livestock operations from even the most basic of pollution laws.”

Factory farms dump 500 million tons of animal waste per year, pollution that leaches into rivers and streams, fouls the air and spreads disease. According to Virginia Tech’s, research air pollution from ammonia is a primary concern as ammonia binds to other air particles, forming particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs.

As Hopkins writes, “Despite the fact that some of these factory farms release more ammonia than large industrial facilities, the EPA is set to give them free reign to pollute.”

Although the EPA released a report detailing the extent of ammonia releases from animal waste, (opens pdf) it has actually allowed some of those toxic releases to continue. According to News Inferno, the EPA let thousands of factory style farms escape penalties in 2006 in exchange for information about their pollutants. Rather than hold them accountable for foul air and water from excrement, EPA signed agreements with 2,681 animal feeding operations and waved federal fines of $27,000 a day for violations. For EPA, these agreements were the most “efficient way” to get the data that would determine whether animal feeding operations comply with air emission laws.

With the recent, proposed rule change, EPA would only want information on animal waste if it creates an emergency situation. As they write in their press release “EPA is proposing to eliminate these reports for air releases from animal waste at farms because it is unnecessary to respond to such reports.”

But with this proposed rule change, Sierra Club’s Hopkins believes, “There is no way we minimize exposure and protect public health if factory farms are not required to report their emissions.”

Indeed, it seems that this Christmas the EPA has given the crappiest gift of all to corporate owners and the public alike.

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