This week, nearly three dozen advocacy groups filed a petition with Scott Pruitt’s EPA, asking the troubled agency to do more to protect communities from the environmental and public health nightmares associated with factory farming.
The petition could not have come at a more critical time. Reports emerged last week about President Trump’s plans to gut the agency, cutting up to $2 billion from its budget and sacrificing as many as 3,000 employees. Since the current administration took office, the EPA has been faced with unprecedented attacks from the very people who should be ensuring that it has the funding and staff it needs to keep communities safe from large scale, industrial factory farms, otherwise known as CAFOs.
This petition shows why the EPA’s budget should be maintained so that the Agency can do its job to protect communities from polluting sources such as CAFOs, No matter who runs the EPA, it still has a mission to uphold.
The Threat of Factory Farms to Environment, Public Health
Most livestock in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, which can confine thousands, or even millions, of animals and their waste. Factory farms present a major environmental and public health threat. The vast quantities of manure generated by factory farms are typically disposed of, untreated, on cropland.
It is often up to communities to shoulder the costs of dealing with this mess, in the forms of contaminated drinking water, noxious air pollution, and foul manure runoff into streams. These streams feed into our major waterways, like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico—contributing to dead zones that destroy aquatic ecosystems, recreation and livelihoods.
Factory farms have been a persistent problem in the U.S., and now with the decimation of the EPA, they’re expected to get even worse. Under the Clean Water Act, discharging factory farms are required to have permits to limit and keep track of pollution. But only a fraction of factory farms, an estimated 40 percent, according to the EPA, actually have them, and their permits are ineffective due to lax regulations and almost non-existent enforcement. As a result, factory farms are ruining air and water quality in many communities, even though the EPA has a duty to protect public health and the environment. This petition asks EPA to close the loopholes so that polluting factory farms have permits and those permits protect our water ways.
How CAFOs Threaten Communities
Exactly how is CAFO pollution harmful? Naeema Muhammad, Co-Director and Community Organizer at the NC Environmental Justice Network described their effects as generating “acrid air” and “polluted water ways.”
“I have seen beautiful rivers turn green as a result of runoff from CAFOs,” added Earl Hatley, Oklahoma’s Grand Riverkeeper. “We clearly need stronger protections, because poultry waste is polluting Oklahoma’s rivers, streams and lakes.”
Former EPA employees are also taking note of the disaster percolating within the embattled agency. This week, William D. Ruckelshaus, who served as EPA administrator under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, published an op-ed in the New York Times advocating in favor of an EPA that is empowered to protect communities.
Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, who ran the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement under George W. Bush, and whose organization also signed-on to the petition remarked, “We are simply asking EPA to close loopholes and clarify existing Clean Water Act requirements, so that the agency can properly do its job and keep big animal feeding operations from polluting our nation’s waters. The Clean Water Act requirements set out by Congress are simple, but the application to factory farms has been a needlessly complex saga. The changes we seek will give us clear rules and cleaner water.”
Despite our current polarized political climate, everyone needs clean air and water. Those who support Trump and Pruitt’s agenda don’t want their children to breathe dirty air, or to drink disgusting water any more than those participating in the resistance do. That’s why it’s important to stand up to their dirty, divisive agenda.