September 30, 2003



Environment Protection On US Livestock Farms

The US Environmental Protection Agency is planning to offer large livestock farms amnesty from lawsuits if they take part in a program to monitor air emissions.


If industry groups and the EPA reach an agreement, this plan would generate data to determine how much air pollution is emitted by pork, poultry, egg, dairy and cattle operations of different sizes. Consequently, farms would be required to control pollution from animal waste.


These wastes emit nitrogen, methane and other gases that combine with products in the air to create ozone or smog. Ammonia, another gas emitted by animal waste, can form small particulate matter, a respiratory irritant linked to asthma attacks, heart and lung problems and early deaths. As farms enlarge, these emissions have also posed as bigger problems, said EPA officials.


EPA officials have described the plan as an attempt to start regulating an industry that may be polluting a great deal but has not been subject to regulations. Meanwhile, the proposal has drawn criticism from environmental groups, who say that without firm regulations, farm polluters have been let off from all responsibility. 


A deal between the EPA and the livestock industry could potentially have a significant impact in California, which has thousands of large animal feeding operations -- and acute smog problems in the Central Valley, where many of these farms are located. As the nation's largest milk-producing state, California has about 2,000 dairies with about 1.5 million cows. About 1,400 of these operations have at least 700 mature animals.


Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of Western United Dairymen, which represents the industry in California, said he supported the proposal because it takes a scientific approach of studying the emissions before establishing and enforcing regulations. Marsh said he believed the studies would show that dairies do not pollute the air as much as environmentalists assert.


Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, which represents poultry farmers, said his members were working with the California EPA to come up with ways to monitor and test emissions and do not expect that they will be required to do much to control their air emissions. Mattos said that California has about 80 large chicken ranches with more than 125,000 birds and 35 large turkey ranches with more than 55,000 birds. "We don't look at this as a major problem for the poultry industry," he said.


Though nothing has been finalized, the industry groups are eager to reach an agreement with the EPA that would give an independent organization -- chosen by industry and approved by the EPA -- the ability to conduct emissions studies that would become the basis for future regulation, said Richard Schwartz, a Washington lawyer who represents the egg, dairy and pork industries in their talks with EPA.


Michele Merkel, a previous EPA lawyer and currently senior counsel for the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project, feels that large livestock facilities could stall before measure to control pollution are undertaken, adding that it could mean a potential delay of years before the industry actually cleans up its act.