Back in March, I reported that the EPA was proposing to exempt Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) from one of the very, very few pollution reporting requirements that currently apply to them. This week, the issue reared its head again -- and it's uglier than ever.
Right now, under the Community Right-to-Know Act and the Superfund law, industrial polluters have to report when they release large amounts of toxic substances into the environment. These laws also give local governments and communities a legal tool to force polluters to clean it up. Under the laws, large, polluting CAFOs are defined as industrial polluters and animal manure is defined as a potentially toxic substance. (Note that this does NOT apply to manure that is spread on cropland at healthy rates by sustainable farmers.)
CAFOs should be regulated in this way, there's no question. The operations release billions of pounds of toxic gases into the air each year, including methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, all of which cause highly unpleasant side effects in humans. Believe me, if you lived near one of these operations, you'd want to know what you were breathing.
But as I reported in March, the EPA wanted to exempt animal manure from the reporting requirements, so CAFOs would no longer need to report air pollution from their manure lagoons or other sites. And this week, the government's Office of Management and Budget announced that the final rule exempting manure had been handed down from EPA. In other words: It appears that the dark side has triumphed on this one.
But it still makes me want to scream. Especially the wording of the final rule:
This administrative reporting exemption [for manure] is protective of human health and the environment and consistent with the Agency's goal to reduce reporting burden where there would likely be no Federal, state or local emergency response to such release reports. Eliminating such reporting will allow emergency response officials to better focus on releases where the Agency is more likely to take a response action.
Excuse me if I'm missing something, but I think they just said that even if highly toxic gases were released, the authorities wouldn't respond, so we might as well not even make CAFOs report their releases. Thanks for being effective, government. Also, in what world is it protective of human health to just not tell people when they're being poisoned?
It appears that there'll be a big deregulatory house party at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for the next few months. Check out this article from today's Washington Post on some of the many regulations that may get the axe between now and January, including changes that will "clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining." And then go home, eat some candy, and cry.