Groups petition for clean air enforcement for livestock confinements

By: - October 26, 2021 5:29 pm

Adam Mason, state policy director for nonprofit Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, speaks in favor of a moratorium on livestock confinement construction at a Statehouse rally on Jan. 23, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

More than 20 environmental and animal-welfare groups in several states petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to end a 16-year-old moratorium on its enforcement of federal air pollution laws for livestock confinements.

At issue is a 2005 agreement between the agency and thousands of confinement owners and operators in 42 states that temporarily halted enforcement of Clean Air Act provisions that might restrict emissions from those confinements. In exchange, the livestock producers agreed to pay up to $2,500 per farm for an emissions study that would guide how the confinements are regulated. They also agreed to pay fines of up to $1,000.

That process — which included a $15 million study of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions — was supposed to conclude a decade ago but is still ongoing because the agency failed to develop effective ways to measure and estimate the emissions, according to an internal report.

“They have been given basically a free pass by the EPA to freely spew air contaminants into the environment,” said Emily Miller, a staff attorney for Food & Water Watch, which has a Washington, D.C., headquarters.

That organization is part of the coalition that petitioned the EPA to end the so-called Air Compliance Agreement with livestock producers and enforce pollution laws. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which has long sought to end the common practice of raising large numbers of hogs in confinement buildings, is also part of the group.

“This is urgent,” said Lisa Whelan, operations director for ICCI. “We can’t afford to keep kicking the can down the road.”

The EPA is required to investigate and respond to the petition, but it has no duty to follow the request. Miller said the coalition could seek a remedy in court if the EPA’s response is unsatisfactory.

An EPA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this article.

Dal Grooms of the Iowa Pork Producers Association declined to comment until the association could fully review the petition.

In 2017, an internal EPA review by its Office of Inspector General concluded that the agency should finish developing its emission estimating methodologies or end the protections it afforded livestock producers starting in 2005.

The agency released a draft of those potential methodologies in August 2020, but it might take years before the process concludes.

The petition asks the EPA to respond within 30 days.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.