Food & Water Watch v. United States Environmental Protection Agency


Food SystemClean Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long history of failing to adequately regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. That’s why Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper filed suit against the EPA in the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for issuing a permit for Idaho factory farms that contained essentially no pollution monitoring, as required by the Clean Water Act. And we won, with the Court sending the permit back to EPA to add monitoring because there was no way to know whether a factory farm was violating the Clean Water Act without monitoring in place.

This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit is meant to ensure that factory farms comply with pollution restrictions that protect waterways for recreation, fishing, wildlife, and other uses. In Idaho alone, there are several hundred factory farms that produce vast quantities of pollutants like E.coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. This industry, which has largely avoided any regulation by federal environmental laws, has contributed to the 2,000 miles of streams and rivers that are now considered impaired by pollutants commonly associated with factory farm waste. The Clean Water Act is meant to control this kind of pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) and other “point source” dischargers, and that system relies on the monitoring that factory farm permits habitually lack across the country.

The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.

While this is an Idaho-specific permit and an important win on the path to accountability in the state, the Court’s ruling should also have national impact. The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.

Following this critical win, we will continue fighting for stronger regulation and enforcement across the country to protect our rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution.

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FWW v. Smithfield


Food System

Photo CC-BY Farmwatch on

At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus tore through production lines, where vulnerable employees work shoulder to shoulder for hours on end, and sickened thousands across the country.

Concerned with protecting their bottom lines, meatpacking companies utterly failed to protect their workers from this life-threatening situation, and deceived the American public about it. In particular, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processing company in the world, repeatedly lied to consumers about the state of our country’s meat supply, and the steps it was taking to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

In 2021, Food & Water Watch filed suit on behalf of the general public in the D.C. Superior Court for Smithfield’s violations of D.C. consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit.

Our complaint documents the numerous false claims Smithfield peddled to the public, designed to increase profits and salvage its image. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned consumers that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging to record highs. And government data showed that the country had huge stores of pork held in cold storage warehouses that could have kept grocery shelves stocked for months.

Smithfield also repeatedly assured consumers that the company was keeping its workers safe. But congressional reports, government safety citations and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers show that Smithfield failed to provide personal protective equipment or distance its workers, promoted a work-while-sick culture, and actively stymied the efforts of state and local health authorities aimed at protecting plant workers.

In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage, jeopardizing workers and lying to the public in the process. Our lawsuit exposes Smithfield’s outrageous and illegal conduct. We’re asking the court to order Smithfield publicly retract its lies, and potentially pay a hefty penalty for its deceit.

More on this case here.

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FWW v. Environmental Protection Agency


Food SystemClean Water

Photo CC-BY-USDA, Bob Nichols

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA is required to annually review, and if necessary, strengthen, industry-wide pollution standards—called effluent limitations guidelines—for factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These guidelines are supposed to ensure that CAFOs are using the best available technology and management practices to reduce their water pollution.

For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax pollution standards for factory farms, despite mounting evidence that the current guidelines, last updated in 2008, fail to protect waterways. This case, filed in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenges EPA’s January 2021 decision to maintain the status quo and keep the inadequate guidelines as-is. The agency’s decision was based on a so-called “review” of CAFO pollution, but its cursory analysis focused on incomplete data which failed to capture the full scope of the industry’s polluting impacts.

Across the country, thousands of CAFOs produce vast quantities of manure containing pollutants like E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorous, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, which threaten public health and ecosystems when discharged into waterways. EPA itself has established that agricultural activities, including CAFOs, are one of the “leading known sources” of surface water pollution in the United States. Yet EPA’s current CAFO guidelines sanction manure storage and disposal practices that simply exacerbate the problem. For instance, CAFO operators are allowed to store millions of gallons of liquid manure in structures that are designed to—and often do—leak. And once those manure pits are full, EPA allows operators to apply this waste to fields in ways, and at quantities, that are known to harm water quality.

Leaving these outdated, unprotective factory farm pollution guidelines on the books violates the Clean Water Act and EPA’s review and revision obligations. Our lawsuit asks the court to require EPA to re-consider its untenable position and potentially adopt more stringent national standards that better protect our nation’s waterways.

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Food & Water Watch v. Colorado Oil & Gas Association


Climate and Energy

Following an adverse decision from the Colorado District Court, litigation concerning Longmont, CO’s local ban on fracking has been appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals due to the trial judge’s failure to acknowledge the drastic legislative changes that were passed since this issue was litigated before the Colorado Supreme Court in 2016. These changes to Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act expressly stated that there was no longer state pre-emption of local land use ordinances and that municipalities may regulate surface activities to protect public health and welfare. 

The initial brief was submitted to the appellate court on February 19, 2021, and argues that the law now allows municipalities to ban local land uses through municipal ordinances that protect public health, as such the Longmont ban on fracking is no longer in conflict with state law as fracking involves significant surface activity and land uses that threaten public health and safety. Briefing and oral arguments will continue through 2021.

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Jaqueline Taylor v. Detroit Drinking Water Amicus


Clean Water

In September of 2020, Food & Water Watch and For Love of Water (FLOW), through local counsel Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., filed a “friend of the court” brief in Jacqueline Taylor et al., v. City of Detroit et al.a groundbreaking lawsuit that seeks to prevent water shutoffs in Detroit until the city establishes a customer affordability program.

From our senior staff attorney, Zach Corrigan:

“We’re proud to join with local allies in support of the landmark lawsuit to challenge water shutoff policies in Detroit, and potentially across the nation. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, city policies kept Detroit residents from washing their hands, flushing their toilets and cleaning their homes. The policies have caused disastrous consequences for the predominantly Black and poor residents of Detroit. 

People have a liberty interest in bodily integrity that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and this right includes not depriving people of the water that they need for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene. It simply makes no sense to say that the Constitution would protect people from gross governmental recklessness resulting in the mass contamination of people’s water with toxic lead, such as in the city of Flint, but not when officials turn a blind eye to the serious health problems in turning residents’ water off altogether.

People’s right not to be deprived of the water they need… is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of this nation. It is imbued in case law defining the duties applicable to water utilities and in other contexts, such as the treatment of prisoners. Courts have expressly and repeatedly recognized the importance of ensuring people are not deprived of the water necessary for life and health.”

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Food & Water Watch NEPA Litigation


Climate and Energy

Over the past 50 years, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has become the cornerstone of U.S. environmental law, and nations worldwide have replicated its model. NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions, creating a critical opportunity to identify environmental risks of a federal action and for the public to get involved. NEPA is meant to foster sound decision-making and transparency, and has allowed for effective community organizing to raise the alarm on and ultimately defeat many dangerous projects.

Trump’s administration gutted longstanding NEPA regulations that required all federal agencies to consider indirect and cumulative impacts – like contributions to climate change – and required review of actions like federal financing of factory farms. Working with a broad coalition, we challenged this rollback in federal court.

In a disappointing turn, the Biden Administration has asked the court to allow it to reconsider the rules while leaving the illegal Trump rules in place, rather than rescinding them entirely and putting the prior regulations back into effect. Our litigation is on pause while the Biden Administration first proposes to reverse some of the worst pieces of the Trump rule. It then intends to conduct a second, broader rulemaking to strengthen federal environmental review, and we will participate in both rulemakings to ensure that they’re lawful and protective of public health and the environment.

“NEPA review of federal actions like pipeline approvals is essential for informed decisions that consider communities and climate, not just corporate profits. FWW will keep holding Biden’s administration accountable for restoring and strengthening this bedrock environmental law.”

Adam Carlesco, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney

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Food & Water Watch v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


Climate and Energy

In early 2020, FWW filed a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit challenging federal energy regulators’ lax consideration of the climate impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure projects. The lawsuit, Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is in response to the December 2019 FERC approval of the “261 Upgrade Project,” which consists of two miles of new pipeline and a new 11,000 horsepower compressor unit near Springfield, Massachusetts — the worst city for asthma sufferers in the entire country.

Shortly after, our legal team began work challenging this reckless approval with one of the local groups on the ground fighting the project, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which has been documenting how this new source of air pollution will devastate local communities that are already overburdened with unhealthy air.

Our goal is simple: Make FERC factor in climate change in its permitting decisions, since they are ignoring legal requirements and court orders to do so.

Is This Federal Agency Ignoring Required Environmental Reviews?

Winning this case would force FERC, the primary regulator of fossil gas for the world’s largest gas-producing nation, to meaningfully consider the broader impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure development on the global climate. It would give vulnerable frontline communities a powerful new tool to stop the dirty energy projects that are making them sick.

The D.C. Circuit Court of appeals heard oral argument in early 2020, and has not yet ruled.

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Food & Water Watch v. United States Department of Agriculture


Food System

On January 13, 2020, we joined three other plaintiffs in bringing suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) rules that undermine pork-safety inspection in slaughter plants.

“There is no gray area here. The new rules curtail the ability of federal inspectors to detect serious food-safety problems and expose those who consume such pork products to serious health threats like salmonella. It’s easy to read between the lines with these new rules: the USDA is letting the wolf guard the hog-house. Food safety is one of the most important protections in our country and gifting the slaughter industry self-regulation powers will mean pork eaters in this country will be facing higher threats of disease.”

Zach Corrigan, Senior Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch

Prior federal law required that meat inspectors critically examine every animal for conditions (as dangerous as septicemia and salmonella) before and after slaughter.

The new rules prevent such inspection and hand over these duties to the slaughter companies alone. They also give up federal control over removing contamination from carcasses to the slaughter companies without any minimum training requirements for slaughter-plant employees.

At the same time, the new NSIS rules lifted prior limits on slaughter-line speeds that were in place to prevent foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Even with these line-speed limits, contaminated pork may cause as many as 1.5 million cases of foodborne illnesses, 7,000 hospitalizations, and 200 deaths in the United States each year. 

The potential for even greater harm to public health is clear.

You can read the full filing here. A monthly donation of any amount keeps us going to bat against the agencies that should protect all of us!