Posted on Dec. 12, 2008
By Virginia Cramer

EPA Finalizes Midnight Rule Benefitting Factory Farms

New Rule Grants Major Exemptions to Hazardous Substance Disclosure Laws

Washington, D.C.--Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule exempting the livestock and poultry industries from the requirement to report releases of hazardous substances above health-based thresholds to the federal government under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The rule also created are lease reporting exemption to the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), which requires notification of state and local authorities, for smaller facilities. This is the first time the EPA has ever created an exemption from hazardous substance notification requirements for a specific industry.

Decomposing animal waste releases toxic chemicals, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Exposure to these chemicals can cause respiratory problems, eye and nasal irritation, headaches, nausea and, in extreme concentrations, death. In recent years, as the size of livestock and poultry operations has increased and concentrated large quantities of animal waste, a considerable body of research suggests that the release of hazardous substances from the waste may present a public health risk.

In response, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope issued the following statement:

"This is one of the most egregious special interest giveaways in eight long years of special interest giveaways. The injury from ammonia or hydrogensulfide is the same whether someone is exposed to ammonia from a factory or tank car or from a giant cesspit of manure. This loophole stinks of political favoritism. In EPA's warped view, deregulating factory farms is more important than protecting communities' health.

"Exempting factory farms from toxics reporting requirements is clear violation of longstanding law that leaves the neighbors of these operations at risk of serious illness. In September, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Minnesota Department of health found that hydrogen sulfide air pollution from a large dairy created a 'public health hazard' for the community. The state government advised people living nearby to evacuate their homes. Only two months later, the EPA exempts these very types of facilities from having to report their toxic pollution under CERCLA, saying the reports are unnecessary.

"This is another example of EPA putting politics before science. In June,2007, the EPA launched a two-year, $14 million monitoring study to gather more information about toxic air pollution from factory farms. Now, long before the end of the study but just before the Bush administration leaves office, the EPA decides it knows enough about the problem to exempt factory farms from reporting requirements. Why bother with the science?"

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