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The Planet
Safe Harbor for Factory Farm Polluters

By Ken Midkiff

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are springing up like fetid mushrooms, from the DelMarVa Peninsula to Missouri to Utah to California’s Central Valley. Bearing no resemblance to the traditional farm, these operations use industrial processes and contain thousands, even millions of animals.

Factory farms produce staggering amounts of waste, fouling air and water and kicking up a tremendous stink. But the Bush administration has given the meat industry control over a proposed deal to let factory farms off the hook for pollution violations. Starting in 2002, meat industry lobbyists approached the administration, proposing a deal where industry would be freed of responsibility for violations of basic environmental protections such as the Clean Air Act and toxics laws.

The chickens and hogs in these behemoth operations are owned by multinational corporations with headquarters in New York, Chicago, or Tokyo. This “modern agriculture” has nothing to do with “feeding a hungry planet” and everything to do with market control. Small-scale sustainable farming operations are quite capable of feeding this nation and the world. Prior to the advent of industrial-strength livestock production, there was no shortage of milk, meat or eggs. Unfortunately, Tyson, Smithfield, Seaboard, Perdue, ConAgra, Cargill, Fosters and their ilk own the slaughterhouses and processing plants and won’t buy from independent producers, putting family farmers out of business.

Long-time rural residents and local farmers have complained bitterly about the overwhelming stench from these operations. A few hogs, cows or chickens don’t smell like roses; a few thousand or a few million of these animals, confined in small enclosed spaces, emit a gut-wrenching stink. This odor is composed of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, and manure dust.

A few months ago, a number of folks whose properties are unfortunately located near some of these facilities wrote a letter to the U.S. EPA, urging enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Their plea was for relief from the stifling stench and the dangerous pollutants spewing out of these factory farms. The Clean Air Act is quite specific. It doesn’t matter if the offender is an oil-and-gas refinery or an animal confinement operation, there are limits established for emissions of harmful compounds that apply to all sources. The EPA is authorized, indeed required, to administer and enforce the law.

Instead, the EPA has been working behind closed doors with the very agribusinesses that have been fouling the rural landscape. New documents released this May revealed the extent of meat industry control over the Bush administration’s proposed amnesty deal for animal factory polluters. Ever since industry groups first approached the EPA two years ago asking the agency to shield them from Clean Air Act violations, Bush administration officials have been corresponding in secret with industry lobbyists to craft a deal that would exempt factory farms from air pollution requirements. Internal e-mails show that industry lobbyists prepared power-point presentations on the proposed deal for Bush administration officials to deliver.

The newly released documents reveal the extent of contact between industry groups and the administration, with monthly meetings taking place over a year-long period. One e-mail exchange documents an EPA official admitting that it was a “no-no” for them to request that the National Pork Producers Council pay for EPA’s travel to a confidential meeting. “This is another example of the Bush administration striking deals behind closed doors,” says Barclay Rogers of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.

Lobbyists for large agribusiness corporations drafted the initial versions of the deal, and later versions include all the points considered important to the polluters. EPA staffers’ immediate response was to deny that such meetings had taken place. When environmental groups obtained leaked documents that clearly demonstrated that the meetings had occurred, the EPA’s response was that “we had kept the environmental groups informed.”

This amounts to the same pile of manure that the CAFOs produce. No one in the EPA kept anyone other than agribusiness lobbyists informed; to the contrary: the only way environmental groups learned that this was going on was through “informed sources” and leaked or requested documents. And when environmental, conservation, and sustainable agriculture groups and state air pollution control administrators objected vociferously to this backroom deal, EPA staffers labeled these objections as “working with affected groups.”

The EPA needs to be reminded of its mission—to protect the human and natural environment. Environmental protection, not polluter protection. Either that or just change the name to “Polluter Protection Agency.”

Take Action:

Call or write Robert Kaplan, the lead attorney at EPA in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), who has been the agency’s principal spokesperson and negotiator. Contact: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20460. Tel: (202) 564-1110. E-mail:

Ken Midkiff, Ozark Chapter Conservation Chair, served as the Club’s longtime lead national organizer on CAFO issues.

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