Edison Council Opposes Keasbey Fracked Gas Plant

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Climate and Energy

Last night, the Edison Township Council voted unanimously in support of a resolution opposing plans for a gas-fired power plant in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge Township, and calling on the administration of Governor Phil Murphy to reject the facility’s air permit application.

With this action, Edison became the first municipality to formally oppose the fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The Competitive Power Ventures plan would place a 630 megawatt plant amid a densely populated community already overburdened with fossil fuel pollution. The company — which was embroiled in a high-profile corruption scandal in New York over approval for a facility in Orange County — already operates a fracked gas power plant adjacent to the proposed site.

“I am pleased that the Edison council was able to take a stand against an unneeded fossil fuel power plant during this time of climate emergency,” said John Hsu, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer. “People sometimes wonder what residents can do at the local level, but efforts like this added up together will make a world of a difference.”

Middlesex County residents were alarmed to learn of the large amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases that the plant would emit into the atmosphere here.

“Two of the leading causes of death in Middlesex County are heart disease and cancer, and lung disease causes 4.1% of deaths in our county. The pollutants from this proposed power plant will only contribute to these numbers,” said Aishwarya Devarajan, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer.

“We have to look after our environment. This plan was strictly a money grab for a large corporation, and it would come at the expense of our health,” said Edison Councilman Richard Brescher.

The resolution was introduced by Councilman Brescher, following months of persistent advocacy from Food & Water Watch and local residents. Its adoption comes as state officials develop and implement rules under a new environmental justice law, which will make it harder for polluting projects like this one to be sited in overburdened communities.

Competitive Power Ventures is “trying to get in under the wire to foist an unnecessary, health-endangering facility on local citizens solely for the sake of their bottom line,” said Keith Voos, Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee of the Metuchen-Edison Branch of the NAACP.

If approved by the Murphy administration, the proposed new facility would be a significant source of air and climate pollution. Each of the towns located within 5 miles of the proposed site (Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Metuchen, and Edison) are considered overburdened, with 73% of all census block groups meeting one or more of the environmental justice criteria.

“There is simply no need to add another source of air and climate pollution in this part of the state, or anywhere else for that matter,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Charlie Kratovil. “If Governor Murphy wants us to believe he is ready to be a climate leader, he will reject the Keasbey plant.”

Mariner East Criminal Charges Show Sunoco Must Be Stopped

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Climate and Energy

Today, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a range of criminal charges against Sunoco parent company Energy Transfer connected to the construction of its Mariner East pipelines.

The 48 criminal charges cover activities across the state, from failure to report releases of drilling fluid to the use of unapproved additives. 

The charges come after years of community organizing to stop this dangerous project.

In response, Food & Water Watch organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake released the following statement: 

“Today’s announcement confirms, once again, that Sunoco’s dangerous Mariner East pipelines pose an ongoing threat to communities across our state. The Wolf administration championed Sunoco’s corporate interests over the health and safety of neighborhoods that have been turned into sacrifice zones. We have lived with sinkholes, water contamination, construction disturbances, property destruction, and the degradation of rivers and streams. 

“The Mariner East disaster is Governor Wolf’s responsibility. He must stop this right now, and we will continue to fight to make sure that he does. Our communities should not be jeopardized so that a major polluter can have another pipeline to ship dangerous liquids that will be turned into plastic junk.”

Groups Urge Congress to Reject Carbon Tax in Reconciliation Bill

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Climate and Energy

Leading climate, environmental justice and grassroots activist groups released a letter to top Senate and House Democrats urging them to reject last-minute efforts to include a carbon tax in the Build Back Better infrastructure proposal.

 The groups – Climate Justice Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Our Revolution, and Progressive Democrats of America – argue that carbon taxes only serve to deepen our dependence on fossil fuels by linking revenue from pollution to ongoing government services. The letter also points out that the costs associated with such a tax will ultimately be paid by working people, which would violate President Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on households making less than $400,000.

“Carbon taxes have fallen out of serious climate discussions for good reasons: They do not reduce emissions, they put a squeeze on working families, and they are embraced by polluters as a ploy to look concerned about climate while continuing business as usual,” said Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones. “As if that record isn’t bad enough, adding a carbon tax as a last minute revenue raiser in the spending bill would only make our economy more dependent on dirty fossil fuels. If lawmakers are really concerned about holding the costs of this spending bill, they should get rid of the billions of dollars we waste every year on subsidies to polluters.”

Carbon taxes have gained popularity among fossil fuel companies in recent years. In lieu of strong policies that would mandate pollution reductions, a small tax would allow corporations to largely maintain the status quo.

“Using a carbon tax to fund the Build Back Better Act to cover the costs of the package does nothing to address the climate crisis,” stated Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “A carbon tax distracts from the urgent need to keep oil, coal and gas in the ground. It would be a tax scheme benefiting the polluters, that does not cut emissions at source at the level that is needed to get the world to 1.5º C. It will result in the continuation of environmental injustice displacing families, affecting Indigenous treaty rights and upending local economies.”

As the letter states,

“the inclusion of a carbon tax would create an inequitable, discriminatory, ineffective and ultimately regressive proposal that gives a green light for the biggest climate scofflaws to pay to pollute and maintain a harmful status quo. We urge you to oppose a carbon tax and instead pursue other revenue streams to pay for critical infrastructure, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.”

Senator Heinrich Signals Supports for Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

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Climate and Energy

New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich released a letter yesterday to several environmental groups confirming that he supports ending federal subsidies to oil and gas companies.

“You asked for my support for ending fossil fuel subsidies, and you have it,” the senator’s letter reads.

Heinrich’s message came in response to a letter from environmental groups and lawmakers across the state, who have been urging action on eliminating subsidies as part of the upcoming spending packages. 

“As the negotiations over the Build Back Better Act intensify over the next few days, it is encouraging to know that Senator Heinrich is ready to fight to end these unconscionable government kickbacks to polluters, said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Margaret Wadsworth. “We know we must transition New Mexico’s economy away from fossil fuels, not continue to subsidize an industry that is driving the climate crisis, wasting precious water resources, and polluting our air.”

“We are in a critical moment to address the climate crisis and must build toward a climate-justice-centered framework that puts people, not industry polluters first,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer Miya King-Flaherty. “Ending federal fossil fuel subsidies is fiscally responsible. We must invest in a clean, renewable energy future, and end handouts to industry polluters. It’s great to see Senator Heinrich support ending fossil fuel subsidies as budget reconciliation talks continue. He is a great environmental champion for New Mexico.”

“Senator Heinrich’s commitment to repeal fossil fuel subsidies sets the standard for climate leadership,” said Friends of the Earth Campaigner Raena Garcia. “In the face of a climate emergency, we need progressive action to transform our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and end support for an industry that is destroying New Mexico’s people and places. Thank you Senator Heinrich for answering the call.”

Ag Committee Offsets Hearing Dominated by Big Ag Voices

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Food System

Washington, DC — Today, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on voluntary offset markets, without hearing from Black, Indigenous and environmental justice communities and smaller-scale sustainable farmers that would be most impacted by carbon offset markets.

Several organizations are raising concerns about this glaring omission of impacted communities from the Committee Witness list, which mostly reads like a who’s who of chemical companies and large agricultural interests that will profit from such a move at the expense of sustainable farmers and environmental justice communities. 

Earlier this year, a broad coalition of organizations sent a letter to Congress raising significant concerns with the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would create the voluntary offset markets the hearing is discussing. 

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) under the USDA will pay Big Ag to provide moral cover for Big Oil,” stated Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation. “My Ponca People continue to live in the violence of the toxic fossil fuel industries creating nothing less than environmental genocide. These polluting corporations have long been buying carbon credits and they have not reduced pollution. In fact, they have expanded their operations and called themselves ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net-zero.’ A carbon market for soils and agriculture, as proposed in the GCSA, privatizes Mother Earth, the air and waters, commodifying the Sacred. This program will further the destruction of biodiversity by paying for farming techniques that prop up large pharma-monoculture-GMO multinational corporations at the expense of sacred seeds and life on this planet. Climate change threatens every aspect of life. We do not have time for these soil and agricultural offset schemes. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground and we must respect and uphold Indigenous Traditional Knowledge-based farming methods.” 

Smaller sustainable farmers, who were not heard by the committee, are concerned that these voluntary offset programs will prop up big agricultural interests, which will likely increase consolidation and undermine those farmers already engaging in sustainable practices.

“Carbon markets do not adequately account for the ecosystem services provided by smaller-scale farms using organic practices. These farms sequester carbon and build organic matter through soil health practices that are fundamental to their operations but they are unlikely to benefit from carbon market programs that pay per acre for individual practices, disproportionately benefiting large farms and financial intermediaries,” said Katie Baildon, Policy Coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

“The House Agriculture Committee does a dis-service to its members when it refuses to hear critical perspectives on carbon markets,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Climate Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “After more than a decade of experience, it’s clear these markets are largely for polluters, agribusiness project developers and Wall Street traders — not farmers or the planet.” 

US – EU Methane Pledge Proposal Should Be Much Stronger

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Climate and Energy

The United States and the European Union announced a methane pledge that aims to achieve at least 30 percent reductions by 2030 (compared with 2020 levels).

The most recent IPCC report added new urgency to the need to drastically reduce emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement: 

“While it is encouraging to see governments’ pledge to take serious action, the emissions target should be much stronger. We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis. There are also serious concerns about how to gauge progress, since agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have continually underestimated methane emissions. 

“It is equally important that these emissions targets do not include factory farm biogas as a so-called solution to the methane problem. These schemes seek to entrench harmful industrial agriculture practices, or to even encourage their expansion under the guise of climate action. 

“Any plan to reduce methane emissions should start from the root source of the problem: Fossil fuel extraction. Meaningful climate action must be rooted in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. The Biden administration can and must stop all new fossil fuel projects, including an end to dirty energy exploitation of our public lands. 

“We have known for years that the fracking boom — cheered on by so many political leaders — is creating an increase in methane emissions, water contamination, and air pollution. Instead of merely pledging to do better, governments around the world must put an end to the drilling and fracking that is fueling the climate emergency.” 

Residents, Climate Advocates Win in Court Against Teaneck Over Rejected Petition Signatures

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Climate and Energy

Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch won in court on Monday against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. 

This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. 

Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (the Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing signatures to be collected electronically to protect public health.

Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 4, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease and petitions must be submitted in person. But that did not mean that petitions with electronic signatures must be turned in before the expiration.

“The Climate Emergency is here. Moving Teaneck to 100% Renewable Energy would be an important step to prevent things from getting worse. Teaneck’s attempted rejection of electronic signatures mandated by Governor Murphy to keep people safe during the covid pandemic is shameful,” said Paula Rogovin, Teaneck resident and plaintiff. “We are pleased that the court has ruled in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot for the people to decide in the November election. We anticipate a massive yes vote from residents. This will be a victory for our Earth and for democracy!” 

“As a CCA co-sponsor, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee strongly supports the people’s effort to switch to cost-effective clean energy alternatives. It’s unfortunate that in order to ensure (that) democracy prevails in Teaneck, we had to go to court,” said Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, Chairperson of the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee. “CCA is about giving the residents of Teaneck the choice to make an informed decision about the township’s energy sources,  environmental responsibility, and the preservation of our future.”

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick whose councils all adopted the ordinance in August. 

“The devastating impacts of Hurricane Ida that we felt across the region just two weeks ago remind us we cannot wait any longer to take bold climate action. “A community choice aggregation program to achieve 100% clean energy sources by 2030 is a critical tool for fighting climate change at the local level,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “We are excited the court ruled in favor of the people and we will be on the ballot so Teaneck residents can vote YES for clean energy this November.”

The plaintiffs were represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, which has experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.

“This is not just a win for clean energy activists but a win for democracy,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “Teaneck residents have the right to public participation in government, so despite the township’s attempt to undermine the democratic will of their constituents, we are glad the judge ruled in our favor.” 

Water Shutoff Protections Prevented Covid Infections and Deaths

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Clean Water

As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that water shutoff moratoria are an important public health tool to prevent the spread of disease. 

Since March 2020, 34 states took action to limit water shutoffs during the pandemic, and 20 of these states imposed comprehensive moratoria that apply to all water systems. The research found that these statewide protections prevented Covid infections and deaths. 

Despite the Delta wave increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, nearly all of these shutoff protections have expired. Only California, New Jersey and Washington have comprehensive moratoria still in place, and both California’s and Washington’s moratoria expire at the end of the month. The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs had significantly lower growth rates for COVID infections and deaths.

“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: Debt forgiveness with a moratorium on shutoffs through the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Long-term, Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”

“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. At the peak of protection, in June 2020, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of 2020, just 12 states had a moratorium in place, and 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.

Congress has provided limited support for water access in the infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. Although the House Energy & Commerce Committee seeks an additional $500 million in the federal budget to the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, there are no shutoff protections attached to the funding. Advocates continue to call for the passage of the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to eliminate utility debt accrued during the moratoria and extend shutoff protections through the recovery period. 

Jersey City Council Opposes PVSC Fracked Gas Plant

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Climate and Energy

On September 8, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution opposing the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s (PVSC) plans for a new fracked gas power plant in Newark, and called on Governor Murphy to direct the agency to shift to a renewable energy alternative. 

Jersey City is the third municipality to formally oppose the project, following Hoboken and Livingston.

“If we are going to seriously address the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida, we need to not only explore long-term sustainable alternatives, but adopt them,” said Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro. “I hope the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission takes note of Jersey City’s position and acts accordingly.”

The power plant would be built at PVSC’s massive sewage processing facility in the Ironbound section of Newark, part of a resiliency project that was proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That storm caused the sewerage plant to lose power and spill billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the Passaic River. The project would provide backup power to the treatment plant when the grid is down, but PVSC also plans to run the facility to offset their power needs from the grid at other times.

“We applaud the Jersey City administration for taking a stand against the dirty energy plant and supporting the well-being of our community and climate,” said Melanie Segal, Jersey City resident and board member of The Climate Mobilization North Jersey. “The welfare of New Jersey residents depends on Governor Murphy rejecting the proposed power plant in Newark and promoting a renewable alternative in line with New Jersey’s own pledge for 100% clean energy in the next 30 years. We hope to see Jersey City continuing to take bold and necessary steps in the fight against climate change.” 

“As we can see from the recent storm in our area, our environment is changing. Any step that we can take to protect our residents, maintain natural resources, and apply green practices will assist in making our Earth a better place,” said Jersey City Councilwoman Denise Ridley.  “Thank you to the advocates who are bringing these issues to the attention of lawmakers.”

While local community members and advocates agree about the importance of improving infrastructure resiliency in the face of a worsening climate crisis, they are demanding a clean renewable energy project that will not increase the pollution burden in the Ironbound and the surrounding region, which has historically faced the brunt of New Jersey’s pollution burden and decades of environmental injustice.

“If Governor Murphy wants to live up to his clean energy, environmental justice, and climate commitments, then he must direct his own agency to stop all plans for a massive new fracked gas power plant in the Ironbound, and to redesign the project with a clean, renewable energy-based source of power,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch NJ State Director. “We commend the Jersey City Council for being the first municipality to oppose plans for another fossil fuel project in this region. In order to protect our climate and the health of residents across our state, other municipalities must join with Hoboken, Jersey City, and Livingston and call on Governor Murphy to stop PVSC’s dirty energy proposal.”

In Response to Lawsuit, EPA Pledges to Strengthen Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards

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Clean Water

Washington, D.C. — In a victory for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will update water pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry following a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations.

“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”

Earthjustice attorney Alexis Andiman added: “Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color.  We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses.  Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”

“We are glad that the EPA will finally strengthen its outdated, unprotective water pollution standards for the slaughterhouse industry. These facilities are a major source of pollution in communities across the country,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen. “But our work is far from over – we will participate in EPA’s rulemaking and are prepared to hold the agency accountable if its new standards again fall short of protecting communities directly impacted by water pollution.” 

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce pollution from three industries: Meat and poultry processing plants, which include slaughterhouses; metal finishing businesses; and manufacturers of organic chemicals that discharge polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities, or communities of color.

“This finding makes it even more imperative for EPA to issue standards that protect the public as soon as possible,” said Lam.

In December 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses, in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.

More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are processed each year in more than 7,000 slaughterhouses across the country. An estimated 4,700 of these slaughterhouses discharge polluted water to waterways, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay, either directly or indirectly through municipal sewage treatment plants.

The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to set industry-wide water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and other industries and to review those standards each year to decide whether updates are appropriate to keep pace with advances in pollution-control technology.

During the Trump Administration, EPA announced that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into waterways, and it would not create standards for slaughterhouses that send their pollution to sewage plants before discharging into rivers or streams. This is despite the fact that EPA identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of nitrogen water pollution without updated standards.

An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.

Many slaughterhouses released far more, with the JBS USA pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, for example, releasing 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day in 2017 to an Illinois River tributary—equivalent to the load in raw sewage from a city of 79,000 people. This showed that the national standards were no longer driving the industry to reduce its water pollution, as intended by the Clean Water Act.

In its September 8 announcement, EPA also identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of phosphorus water pollution in the nation. Moreover, EPA expressed a need to develop pretreatment standards for slaughterhouses—finding that 73 percent of local sewage plants that receive wastewater from slaughterhouses have violated pollution limits in their Clean Water Act permits for pollutants found in slaughterhouse effluent.