Jan. 25, 2005 – Environmentalists are accusing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of entering into a "backroom deal" with factory farm companies over agricultural pollution. On Friday, the EPA announced a proposal to large agricultural companies that would allow them to avoid fines for past and future pollution in exchange for paying a relatively small fee and opening their operations up to monitoring.
Calling its plan a "huge step forward," Thomas V. Skinner, EPAâ€™s acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said the agreements with the companies will allow the EPA to "reach the largest number of [animal feeding operations] in the shortest period of time and ensure that they comply with applicable clean air requirements."
Noting that air pollutants and hazardous substances emitted by factory farms may violate the Clear Air Act and other environmental regulations, the EPA said that "the increased size and consolidation of agricultural operations including poultry, swine and dairy operations have been the focus of an increasing number of citizen complaints and concern about possible health impacts."
The agency said more information is necessary in order to determine the extent of the public health risk and to develop standards for regulating the industry. The voluntary agreement proposed by the FDA would compel participating companies to fund further research and facilitate increased monitoring. In exchange, the businesses would be immune from EPA lawsuits over most past environmental violations and future infringements for the next three to six years.
But environmental groups say the EPA is merely pandering to big business and providing a "get-out-of-jail free" card to big polluters.
"Rural families have been suffering from this pollution for years, and now they will have to wait at least until 2011 for relief," said Ed Hopkins, environmental quality director of the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization.
"The largest corporations in the livestock industry are being let off the hook," he said, "in exchange for agreeing to â€˜studyâ€™ their air pollution and paying small fees. Under this deal, the companies are not actually required to reduce any harmful pollution. It's nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and does nothing to protect the health of neighbors and their children. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA already has the ability to require polluting facilities to provide data on their emissions, without exempting the polluters and putting nearby residents at risk."