July 17, 2018

Consumer Groups Sue EPA for Withdrawing Clean Water Act Rule

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, and Iowa Citizens for Community filed a lawsuit last week against the Environmental Protection Agency for withdrawing a rule that would have allowed the government to collect information from factory farms. The rule would have required CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, to comply with the protective standards of the Clean Water Act.

Gavel on BenchThere are about 20,000 CAFOs in the United States, and they produce three times as much waste as humans. EPA does not require those facilities to meet waste management and treatment requirements, even though the animal waste released into the environment contains pathogens, heavy metals, antibiotics, and hormones.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act mandated that the EPA regulate CAFOs. The rule, called CWA Section 308, was supposed to force the EPA to start gathering pertinent information from those facilities. The government does not have basic data about factory farms, including information on their size, location, and waste management practices. Industry opposed the rule, so EPA withdrew it without justification.

EPA officials now state that they will gather that information from state and federal agencies, instead of directly from CAFO owners and operators. But recent government reports say that state agency CAFO data is “inconsistent and inaccurate and does not provide EPA with the reliable data it needs.” In addition, “no federal agency collects accurate and consistent data on the number, size, and location of CAFOs,” according to HSUS.

The consumer groups have strong words for the EPA. Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at HSUS said, “the animal agriculture industry has benefited from EPA’s lack of information for decades, and has successfully opposed efforts to increase transparency. This certainly is not good for animals, humans, or the environment; it is only good for massive industrialized farms.” George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety said in a statement, “with the withdrawal, EPA continues to pursue a CAFO pollution control policy that can only be described as willful ignorance. As long as EPA continues to turn an unlawfully blind eye towards this industry, our waterways and communities will never be safe.”

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