New Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Decision To Exempt Factory Farms From Reporting Hazardous Air Pollution

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Community and conservation groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday for overstepping its authority in exempting factory farms from pollution-reporting requirements essential to public safety, environmental health and animal welfare.

The lawsuit aims to ensure that industrial-scale livestock and poultry operations report their toxic releases of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

“Trump’s EPA wants meat factories to keep their toxic air emissions secret, despite a clear statutory mandate to disclose, once again promoting the interest of some of the worst polluters at the expense of public health,” Carrie Apfel, a staff attorney for Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming Program, said in a statement. “What the EPA is doing is illegal, and an affront to rural families that have every right to know what is in the air they breathe.”

The suit was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September 2018, challenging the EPA’s earlier attempts to hamper the law’s mandatory pollution reporting obligations by unlawfully posting instructions on its website and characterizing those instructions as “guidance.” Yesterday’s filing supplements that action to include claims challenging the rule finalized earlier this month by the EPA that codifies this impermissible exemption.

Federal pollution-reporting requirements are designed to guarantee that communities and emergency responders have access to information necessary to protect themselves against harmful exposure to hazardous substances like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The reporting requirements also provide information that is crucial to developing effective emergency-response and preparedness plans.

“In eliminating these very reasonable pollution-reporting requirements for the country’s largest factory farms, the Trump EPA is attempting to replace Congress’s unambiguously expressed intent with its own,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Concealing dangerous emissions from factory farms puts rural communities, emergency responders and wildlife at greater risk.”

Exposure to ammonia and hydrogen sulfide released from the highly concentrated animal waste produced by factory farms can cause many human health problems, including respiratory diseases, nasal and eye irritation, headaches, nausea and even death.

“The same factory farms that confine billions of animals without regard for those animals’ pain or suffering continue to show the same disregard for human health, as well as, wildlife in rural communities,” said Peter Brandt, managing attorney for Farm Animals for the Humane Society of the United States. “The last thing these animal factories should receive from the EPA is another free pass to continue polluting our air with no consequences.”

Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide releases also can contaminate air, water and soil, and harm wildlife and the health of farm animals confined in these facilities.

Though practically all factory farms release ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in some amount, the federal reporting requirements at issue in yesterday’s lawsuit apply solely to facilities large enough to release pollution at a level that triggers the law’s threshold reporting obligations.

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Don’t Waste Arizona, Environmental Integrity Project, Food and Water Watch, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Sound Rivers, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

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