Federal amendment would exempt farms from air pollution reporting
WASHINGTON Idaho Sen. Larry Craig may try to exempt commercial mega-farms, like the Circle Four hog farm in Beaver County, Utah, from having to report toxins from animal waste that are released into the air, and the Sierra Club says it stinks.
Craig insists that Congress never meant the clean air laws to apply to agricultural operations. But a series of court decisions have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to begin crafting a plan to regulate the animal emissions.
So the Idaho Republican, an ardent backer of agri-business, is considering offering an amendment today to exempt farms from any clean air reporting requirements.
The Sierra Club, which caught wind of Craig's plan, said Monday that the exemption would deprive rural residents of information on what kind of toxins the corporate farms are releasing into the air and what sort of health concerns they should be aware of.
"Especially since some of them emit comparable quantities of chemicals into the atmosphere [as factories], I would think their neighbors would want to know," said Ed Hopkins of the Sierra Club. "This is just a right-to-know requirement that we're talking about. It doesn't require anything of these operations except to report."
The EPA is primarily concerned about ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that escapes into the air from lagoons that hold animal waste.
Craig's spokesman, Dan Whiting, said the amendment is something Craig is considering, but he isn't certain if he is going to propose it at today's Senate hearing on the Veterans Affairs-Housing and Urban Development spending bill. But Whiting said the Sierra Club is pushing for the information to frighten people near large farms.
"The Sierra Club has a long history of trying to shut down industry and agriculture, and that's their true intent here," Whiting said.
"The Sierra Club is using it as a scare tactic to shut down business. I would hope Americans realize that milk doesn't come from the back of the grocery store."
The federal laws only require reporting in the largest commercial farms. Utah's Circle Four Farms produces more than 1 million market hogs a year. A spokesman for Circle Four was unavailable for comment.
Hopkins said tests done as part of a lawsuit in Oklahoma found that a 25,000-hog operation emitted more than twice the level required for reporting.
Agribusiness is the top contributor to Craig's campaigns, according to information compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Craig has received $409,967 since 1999, the reports show.
For years the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act required large polluters to report their toxic releases, but agriculture operations didn't believe they were covered by the laws.
Then, near the end of the Clinton administration, the EPA took action against farms that had not reported. Environmental groups also sued farms that had not reported, most notably against a Tyson Foods chicken farm in Kentucky.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency, under former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, is working on an agreement where the EPA would not pursue any action for past failures in reporting. In exchange, large farms would agree to reporting based on a two-year scientific study funded by the agribusiness industry with EPA oversight.
The agreement is expected to be completed soon.