Home Restaurant Can a Court Compel the EPA to Protect Communities of Color From...

Can a Court Compel the EPA to Protect Communities of Color From CAFO Pollution?


The first time he caught a fish riddled with sores and boils, Devon Hall didn’t immediately draw the connection to the hog farms located near his home in Duplin County, North Carolina. But it didn’t take long for him to realize that the fish he had grown up catching and eating were no longer safe, likely due to the manure running off the hog lagoons located just upstream.

With more than 500 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) housing millions of pigs, Duplin County is known as the “hog capital of the world.” And its residents are paying the price: Hall hasn’t gone fishing in more than 20 years. He doesn’t even drink his own tap water for fear of contamination.

“It’s unbearable,” said Hall.

Devon Hall, executive director of REACH, is fighting against air and water pollution from the CAFOs that surround his community. (Photo credit: Justin Cook for Earthjustice)

A petition filed today from the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice aims to help residents like Hall by changing the way CAFOs are classified under the Clean Water Act. A mountain of research over the past couple decades has shown the human and environmental health impacts of water pollution stemming from CAFOs. And yet, as many as two-thirds of the more than 20,000 CAFOs across the country are unregulated under the Act, leaving them with little to no regulatory oversight in their pollution discharge.

CAFOs and the Clean Water Act

For 50 years now, the Clean Water Act has governed water quality and pollution across the U.S. That’s done in part through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit program called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which caps the amount of pollution an entity—such as a factory farm—can discharge.

But because CAFOs pollute intermittently—that is, when it rains heavily and their manure lagoons overflow, or they spray waste on a field for disposal—it’s harder to monitor them through the NPDES.

“Right now, EPA is using what’s essentially a self-reporting system,” said Alexis Andiman, a senior attorney with Earthjustice. “The problem there is, it’s very hard to check the CAFOs work, because EPA and state agencies just don’t have the resources to go out and figure out whether every CAFO that says it’s not discharging actually isn’t discharging.”

State agencies often require pollution permits, too, but many state-run permitting systems don’t include protections for water that are as stringent as the federal Clean Water Act.

The EPA has tried twice before to come up with rules that would ultimately increase the number of CAFOs required to obtain Clean Water Act permits. However, courts struck down the efforts in both cases, claiming the rules went beyond the scope of the Act by classifying some non-polluting CAFOs as pollution sources.

A Petition for Change

In its new petition, Earthjustice—along with the Environmental Working Group, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and dozens of other environmental groups across the country—is following up on the EPA’s prior attempts with a specific legal suggestion. In order to regulate more CAFOs through the Act, the petitioners argue the agency should adopt a rebuttable presumption that large CAFOs using wet manure systems actually discharge pollutants. In other words, the EPA could operate under the assumption that CAFOs are sources of pollution—which would require them to get a permit—unless proven otherwise.

The EPA has tried twice before to come up with rules that would ultimately increase the number of CAFOs required to obtain Clean Water Act permits. However, courts struck down the efforts in both cases.

“Basically, [if this presumption is adopted,] the thumb is on the scale for getting a permit because we know that a permit is usually required,” Andiman said. “So, it flips the script a little bit.”

Requiring more CAFOs to get pollution permits would not only increase regulatory oversight—by capping the quantity of pollution they could emit and fining them if they surpass those caps—it would also increase transparency.

“Right now, it’s not always easy to find out where CAFOs are located, how close to your house they are, how many animals they confine, how they’re dealing with that manure,” Andiman said.

Under the Act, that information would become more readily available, which could help neighboring communities get a better sense of what’s impacting their water (and air) quality. It could also open the door to more lawsuits against CAFOs that are violating the terms of their permit.

The EPA declined to comment on this specific petition prior to its publication, stating in an email: “We will review the petition when we receive it.”





Source link

Previous articleU.S. Hotel Performance Decreases, Shows Improved 2019 Comparisons
Next articlemyDigitalOffice Helps the Industry Move to a Modern Operations Model