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The Planet

Animal Factories Hit EPA Speed Bump
Campaign Finance Needs Push

Animal Factories Hit EPA Speed Bump

By Sarah W. Heim-Jonson

Old MacDonald had a farm - until a giant corporation ran him out of business.

In farming communities across the country, family farms are being displaced by large-scale hog production operations that produce as much waste each day as a city of half a million people.

These concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, scar the landscape in dozens of states, notably in the Southeast, and foul the water and air of communities surrounding them.

The poor management of animal waste at these facilities has forced many long-time neighbors to flee their homes - because of untreated manure and urine in the water, or noxious fumes and sprayed waste in the air. In 22 states, hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers and streams. It has contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

However, there may be a small improvement on the horizon, according to Ken Midkiff, coordinator for the Sierra Club's Clean Water Campaign. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering new regulations for CAFOs.

The regulations would help reduce the amount of pollution CAFOs are allowed to emit. They'd also address the problem that comes with "contract operations" - when corporations hire a farmer to raise livestock, but don't assume any liability for environmental damage caused by the massive operation. A few states, like Kentucky, require corporations to take responsibility for their contract growers. Most don't.

The new rules, however, do not remove the agricultural storm-water exemption that allows polluted runoff from animal factories to enter streams and rivers - "a gaping loophole," said Midkiff, that must be removed.

"The proposed rules are not perfect, but we're glad to see the EPA making progress," said Midkiff.

Take Action:

Write the EPA and tell Administrator Christie Whitman to implement the new rules. Send to:
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Proposed Rule
USEPA Office of Water, Engineering and Analysis Division (4303)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460

Advantages of the New Rules

  • All animal factories would be required to apply for water discharge permits.
  • Lagoons (for storage of liquefied animal waste) must be large enough to withstand an above-average rainfall without overflowing.
  • Large corporations that contract with small farmers to operate these facilities would share responsibility for environmental damage at the contractor's location.
  • The runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen, which spur plant growth that harms fish by depleting the level of oxygen in water, would be more controlled.

Campaign Finance Needs Push

During last year's elections, the oil and gas industry contributed more than $32 million - 78 percent of which went to the Republican party and its candidates.

When Vice President Dick Cheney previewed the administration's energy plan on April 30, he said the country must depend more heavily on gas and oil, rather than invest in renewable energy sources or promote conservation.

You don't even have to do the math on that one. It's one example of why the Sierra Club supports a major overhaul of the campaign finance system, which currently involves caps and restrictions on campaign funding - but doesn't go far enough.

The Senate made a critical move toward limiting the influence of polluter dollars by passing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001 - the McCain-Feingold bill - on April 2. The bill would ban soft money and restrict issue ads, but would raise the cap on individual hard-money contributions from $1,000 to $2,000. (See below for a definition of terms.)

Next the House will consider its version - the Shays-Meehan bill - the details of which were still being discussed at press time.

"We need campaign-finance reform. The current system is bad for democracy and bad for the environment," said Deanna White, the Club's deputy political director, who explained that opponents are trying to stall on the bill and avoid a vote.

Take Action:

Write or call to tell your representative to support consideration of the Shays-Meehan bill before the July 4 legislative recess. For more information, visit


Hard Money: This is money donated directly to a candidate's campaign fund. But the amount that can be contributed is capped, and strict federal laws govern its use.

Soft Money: Corporations, unions and wealthy individuals are allowed to contribute as much money as they want to campaigns in the name of "party-building activities" - that is, the money can't legally be spent on a specific federal candidate. In reality, however, money that is supposed to be used for voter registration or get-out-the-vote drives, is used to pay for everything from office overhead to new computer equipment, freeing up funds a party had earmarked for such things to be spent on a candidate instead. This money is not subject to federal regulations or limits.

Political Action Committees: PACs are formally organized committees - they must register with the Federal Election Commission - whose purpose is to elect or defeat a specific candidate in an election. Typically, they are formed around a particular interest area and can give up to $5,000 a year to an individual candidate. Beyond that, they can donate $15,000 annually to a political party and $5,000 to another PAC. PACs must report who gives them money and how they spend it.

Issue Advocacy: Issue ads are a way to promote a candidate without violating strict federal laws regulating funds spent on communications - TV ads, print, radio spots. As long as the group sponsoring the ad avoids specific language - a candidate's name, for example - it can express support of a certain issue, and further the campaign of a favorite candidate, without running into the restrictions of federal law. Money spent on issue advocacy jumped from $135 million in 1996 to $509 million in 2000.

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