Washington, D.C.— The national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch (FWW) filed a federal lawsuit today in District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that a 2015 loan guarantee by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to a Maryland chicken producer lacked adequate environmental review. The loan guarantee made it possible to construct and operate a large chicken factory farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the poultry industry is heavily concentrated and waterways are already polluted.
“The federal government should not subsidize factory farms with our tax dollars or guarantee their financing,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “If the Farm Service Agency had properly considered the harmful impacts this facility would impose, both on its own, and in combination with many other poultry facilities, the environmental assessment would have shown that this is not the type of chicken production facility that Maryland needs more of.”
The federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies likes the FSA to assess the environmental impacts of certain actions, including loan guarantees to large factory farms. These facilities are associated with a range of harmful impacts, including pollution runoff into streams, groundwater contamination and depletion, air pollution and foul odors, flies, increased traffic and declines in property value for nearby residents. The suit alleges that the FSA’s review fell far short of what NEPA requires in an environmental assessment, including that it failed to adequately consider the cumulative effects of its lending actions and the growth of the poultry industry on the Eastern Shore. FSA has issued dozens of loans and loan guarantees to chicken producers in Maryland, amounting to more than 47 million dollars of financing between 2009 and 2015.
The facility has capacity to house 192,000 chickens at a time, producing more than one million chickens and 1,000 tons of chicken waste each year. It is located next to Watts Creek in Caroline County, which flows into the already-polluted Choptank River, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution degrading the Bay, and a 2015 U.S. Geological Survey report found that the streams and groundwater on the Eastern Shore have some of the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the nation—in large part due to poultry manure pollution.
“EPA and states are spending billions of dollars to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but at the same time, USDA is directly undermining that effort by promoting the construction of even more factory farms in the watershed,” said Kevin Cassidy, Senior Attorney at Earthrise Law Center. “The Bay is dying a death by a thousand cuts, and this USDA action to support yet another chicken operation is just one more cut.”
Public records also show that the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Governor’s office intervened in the FSA environmental assessment process, urging the agency to expedite its approval of the loan guarantee on behalf of the loan applicant. The FSA issued its approval just days later.
“If the Hogan administration’s political interference in the Farm Service Agency’s review process affected its decision to approve the loan guarantee for this factory farm, the court should throw out the agency’s analysis,” added Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food & Water Watch. “NEPA requires a legitimate review of environmental impacts, and politics should not come into play. It was completely inappropriate for the administration to put its thumb on the scale.”
The lawsuit asks the court to nullify the FSA’s environmental assessment and declare that it was inadequate, among other relief. FWW is represented by Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Founded in 1996, Earthrise Law Center is the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. Earthrise Law Center is a team of impassioned attorneys and staff working to achieve targeted environmental improvement while teaching the next generation of advocates to do the same. Earthrise has been named one of the “winningest” legal clinics in the nation by National Jurist.