The New York Times, Jennifer S. Lee, September 25,
Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is
considering a policy of permitting industrial-size animal farms to
avoid federal lawsuits for air pollution if those farms pay a $500
penalty and $2,500 to finance a program to monitor air quality near
the farms, according to internal documents. The amnesty would last
the duration of the air-monitoring program, which is not specified
in the document but which officials said would be about two years.
After that, the farms would have to apply for emissions permits from
local governments. At minimum, however, they would still have to meet
federal air quality standards.
"This is an effort to get an industry that has not been traditionally
regulated under the Clean Air Act into our system," said Robert
Kaplan, director of special litigation and projects at the environmental
agency. The proposal, which is not final, is a response to
one made by industry groups earlier this year. The amnesty would cover
only lawsuits by the federal government, not by state governments.
Large hog or chicken farms, which house thousands of animals,
have been a growing concern in many farming areas. These operations
generate millions of gallons of animal waste and hundreds of tons
of fecal dust each year. In the case of hog farms, the waste is often
gathered into open-air cesspools that release hydrogen sulfide, ammonia
and methane gases, all of which are toxic in high concentrations.
Thousands of Americans have attributed their respiratory problems,
headaches, fatigue and even brain damage to air pollution from these
Environmental groups are criticizing the "safe
harbor" plan as too open-ended, by giving amnesty to all farms
when only a few would actually be monitored. The groups say the lack
of deadlines and expiration dates is unusual for consent agreements
that the federal government signs with industry. "They are basically
selling out the Clean Air Act and communities which live near these
facilities for $3,000 a head," said Michele Merkel, a lawyer
for the Environmental Integrity Project.
Lawyers at the agency say that universal amnesty is the most
efficient way to create a system of pollution controls. Industry
groups say that enforcement has been haphazard and that the
lack of standards means that factory farms have no idea whether or
not they are in compliance with the Clean Air Act.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150