Green groups sue EPA for exempting farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste

Green groups sue EPA for exempting farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste
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A coalition of green groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late Monday over a rule that lifts requirements for major farms to report the pollution they emit through animal waste.

The rule, released in June, spurred criticism from environmental groups who say nearby communities would no longer have access to information about harmful gases being released into the air.

“Trump’s EPA wants meat factories to keep their toxic air emissions secret, despite a clear statutory mandate to disclose, once again promoting the interest of some of the worst polluters at the expense of public health,” said Carrie Apfel, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, the group leading the suit. “What EPA is doing is illegal, and an affront to rural families that have every right to know what’s in the air they breathe.”

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Earthjustice and other groups backing the lawsuit contend that large farms previously subjected to the rules emit enough harmful pollutants that nearby residents need to be informed in order to be able to respond to possible health problems appropriately. 

Apfel said at the time of the rule's release that people with chronic health problems are seeking medical care from doctors who are asking what they might be exposed to — information they currently can only get from such reports. 

Animal waste is collected and stored in open pits, often called lagoons, across many industrial farms in the U.S. As the manure decomposes, it emits ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which have been linked to respiratory issues and other health problems.

People who live near farms have long complained of the odor, but they also attribute asthma, headaches, nausea and a stinging sensation in their lungs to farm pollution.  

Farms have called the reporting requirements onerous.

“Routine emissions from agricultural operations are not a threat to local communities,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement when the rule was first released. “We are glad to see EPA fully implement the law by providing relief from burdensome state and local reporting requirements.”

EPA has maintained that Congress intended to remove state-level reporting requirements for farm waste when it got rid of the federal ones — something environmental groups dispute.