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EPA sued over livestock emissions

By Staff | May 2, 2015


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earthjustice is going back to court to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to vacate a rule that exempts industrial meat producers from federal hazardous substance reporting.

“People have a right to know that this industry is releasing hazardous substances into the air near their homes, schools, businesses and communities,” said Kelly Foster, senior attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “EPA does not have the authority to deny people access to information that is essential to protecting their health and the health of their communities and water resources.”

All animal feeding operations are exempt from the requirement to notify the National Response Center of releases of hazardous substances into the air from animal waste, except for the largest operations.

Waterkeeper Alliance, The Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, The Humane Society of the United States and Sierra Club are members of the coalition that first sued the EPA in 2009, saying it had illegally exempted industrial meat production operations in 2008.

Although EPA had set rules for re-evaluating its exemption, the suit maintains, it has failed to act after six years.

Federal substance reporting requirements are outlined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and in the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, an Earthjustice news release said.

In the original suit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the EPA asked the appeals court to leave the rule in effect and send it back to the agency for “prompt reconsideration and suitable amendment.”

“The Obama Administration has broken its promise to swiftly reconsider the illegal carve-outs for industrial meat producers from right-to-know laws that apply to all other polluters,” said Eve Gartner, lead attorney for the coaltion. “Because EPA has admitted that it is not moving forward to revise the exemptions as promised, we have no choice but to ask the court to reopen this case and strike down the exemptions.

“EPA’s illegal rule is keeping rural communities in the dark about the dangerous air pollution they’re being exposed to, and we’re asking the court to require a fix to this unconscionable situation without further delay,” said Tarah Heinzen, attorney for Environmental Integrity Project.

If the case is won, the action is calling for a nine-month deadline for the revision.

Health impacts

The suit is primarily concerned with the presence of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that are released into the air from concentrated livestock operations, such as swine confinement facilities. They are products of decomposing livestock waste.

Both are toxic to humans when in concentrated amounts, according to the National Academy of Science.

Both gases, the suit said, “contribute to the development of fine particulate matter, which is linked to a variety of problems, including: premature death, heart attacks, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung function.”

Slow walking

The suit alleges the EPA has been “slow-walking the court” on this issue for the past four years. It charges the EPA with promising to revise its exemption rule in order to convince the court to dismiss petitions of concerns citizens opposed to the exemption.

“Now, more than four years have passed,” the suit said, “EPA has not worked on the rulemaking since 2012, and it has no projected date for proposing a rule.

“EPA’s inaction defies the court’s remand order and thwarts its jurisdiction by shielding the Exemption Rule from judicial review.

“Recalling the mandate and deciding the merits without further delay is the most efficient way to resolve this dispute.”

The suit said documents obtained by petitioners under the Freedom of Information Act, indicates the EPA’s process on this revision has been stalled since 2012.

EPA officials confirmed that work to revise the exemption rule was stopped until emissions estimating methodologies are developed, and that the EEM development process is on hold indefinitely.

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