Bush EPA: Animal Processing Industry to Be Shielded

[ The Bush EPA appears about ready to close a deal which would allow industry to gather data on its own harmfulness, again: this time, the deal is with the largest animal processors, who “generate about 575 billion pounds of animal manure a year,” “[t]oxic pollutants [which] have been linked to a wide range of respiratory problems, especially in children.” The deal will likely (1) increase the length of time before new standards go into effect, (2) place “a moratorium on doing anything for communities where these operations are,” and in the meantime, (3) shield these companies “from prosecution for violations of the Clean Air Act and other federal laws.” All typical of Bush’s pro-industry appointees. –BL ]

E.P.A. Nears Pact on Waste by Processors of Livestock

June 3, 2004 | New York Times


WASHINGTON, June 2 – The Environmental Protection Agency is close to reaching an agreement with some of the nation’s largest animal processors that would lay the groundwork for the first federal emission standards for companies that process millions of pigs, cows and chickens every day.

The agency says the agreement, which would allow the companies to monitor the air quality of their own operations for two years, would produce information that is essential to develop standards for the industry, which generates huge amounts of animal waste. Toxic pollutants in the waste have been linked to a wide range of respiratory problems, especially in children.

“The industry as a whole needs better monitoring data,” said Thomas V. Skinner, assistant administrator of the agency’s office of enforcement and compliance. “This is the fastest and clearest way to do that.”

But environmental groups and former agency officials say the agreement is a bad deal for the public because while the companies are collecting data, they will be shielded from prosecution for violations of the Clean Air Act and other federal laws.

“The government has the authority to get this data without an amnesty agreement,” said Barclay Rogers, a lawyer for the Sierra Club. “That’s one of the things that makes this so objectionable – there is no reason for the government to cut a sweetheart deal.”

Eric Schaeffer, who was an agency enforcement lawyer in the Clinton administration, said it could take as long as 10 years for the new standards to be put into effect, giving operators that much more time to elude enforcement action.

New standards would go into effect only after the agreement was announced, a public comment period passed, companies signed up for the program, the agency selected about 30 operations to monitor, data was collected, information was studied, regulations were written and challenges were overcome. “It would take a minimum of five years and nine months if everything goes like clockwork,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “In government, nothing does. I figure it’s an 8-year, maybe 10-year process, and during the whole time, there is a moratorium on doing anything for communities where these operations are.”

John Thorne, a consultant to the livestock industry who helped negotiate the agreement, sharply disagreed, saying the length of time would be no more than four years. Even that, he said, is worth the effort because data will provide new standards for such a large part of the livestock industry – dairy cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and egg-laying hens. Beef cattle processors are not part of the agreement.

Concerns about emissions from large processing operations began to emerge in the 1990’s after new technology and consolidation put a handful of big companies, like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, in commanding control of the nation’s food basket as they bought out smaller competitors.

The Clinton administration never got around to developing emission standards for the industry. Industry representatives were spurred to develop their own plan in response to a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences that concluded that companies needed more information about their emissions as well as a series of court cases in which big companies settled with the government over violations.

“We didn’t want to study ourselves into jail,” said Richard Schwartz, a lobbyist for some of the biggest livestock companies, explaining why the promise of protection against enforcement action was so important to processors. “It would have made no sense for them to be sued, based on what they found in the study.”

Mr. Skinner insisted the agency was “not giving a lot away” by offering protection, arguing that the need for more information outweighed any other considerations. “This provides certainty for operators,” he said. “If there is an imminent threat to human health, we retain the ability to go in and solve the problem.”

But critics say the threat is already there, especially in states like Kentucky and North Carolina, which are home to some of the largest processing plants. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the nation’s largest processors generate about 575 billion pounds of animal manure a year.

In western Kentucky, Aloma Dew, a former history professor who is now a regional representative of the Sierra Club, said the air was so foul-smelling in some towns that she had organized a ”tour de stench” to call attention to how enormous the problem was.

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