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E-M:/ Govt Acctability Office of Congress: CAFOs "can emit dangerous levels of ... pollutants"

Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <Anne.Woiwode@sierraclub.org>

News from Congress

For Immediate Release: September 24, 2008

Contact:  Jodi Seth or Alex Haurek(Energy and Commerce), 202-225-5735

                  Mary Kerr (Transportation and Infrastructure), (202)

                      Government Report Links Factory
              Farms to Harmful Air Emissions, Water Pollution

                 Lawmakers Question EPA Plan to Loosen Air

                     And Water Reporting Requirements

Washington, D.C.?A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released
today says that large factory farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations (CAFOs), can emit dangerous levels of airborne and waterborne
pollutants.  The report concludes that these operations can potentially
degrade air quality because large amounts of manure may emit unsafe
quantities of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and particulate matter, and they
can potentially degrade water quality because pollutants in manure such as
nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, and organic matter could enter nearby water

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry have determined that exposure to ammonia
and hydrogen sulfide can have harmful health effects, even resulting in
death at high concentrations.

The results of the 18-month GAO study come as key Members of Congress are
challenging a controversial proposal by EPA that would lift release
reporting requirements of airborne pollutants from CAFOs, despite the fact
that EPA?s own scientists have found hydrogen sulfide and ammonia to be
powerful pollutants with potentially serious health effects.  Further,
despite clear evidence of the link between animal feeding operations and
impaired water quality, EPA is on the verge of approving a new Agency
rulemaking that restricts Federal authority under the Clean Water Act to
only the most egregious polluters to the nation?s waters ? those facilities
with chronic ongoing discharges of animal waste runoff into rivers,
streams, and lakes.

Today?s GAO report was requested by Reps. John D. Dingell (D-MI), the
Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, James L. Oberstar (D-MN),
the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Gene
Green (D-TX), the Chairman of the Environment and Hazardous Materials
Subcommittee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the Chairwoman of the Water
Resources and Environment Subcommittee, and Hilda Solis (D-CA), the Vice
Chair of the Environment and Hazardous Subcommittee.  In March, Dingell and
other Energy and Commerce Committee members wrote EPA questioning the
agency?s proposal to eliminate reporting requirements for significant air
emissions from animal waste.

?This GAO study confirms that the Bush Administration?s plan to exempt
industrial sized animal feeding operations from emissions reporting
requirements is nothing more than a favor to Big Agribusiness at the
expense of the public health and communities living near these facilities,?
said Rep. Dingell.

?It is clear that the clustering of agricultural operations increases the
probability of pollutants from animal waste degrading water quality and
leading to serious health concerns for area residents.  If not managed
properly by the CAFOs, E coli and other pathogens found in animal manure
can contaminate fresh drinking water supplies,? said Rep. Oberstar.
?Despite 35 years of Clean Water Act authority to address pollution from
CAFOs, I am troubled that EPA simply does not have a sufficient
understanding of the scope of the problems, let alone a comprehensive
solution to protect the nation?s waters from potential contaminants.  This
is a recipe for serious impairment of the nation?s water supplies from
known and controllable sources.?

"The EPA?s own science demonstrates that animal waste can cause health
problems, and this report found that the EPA lacks accurate data on large
animal feeding operations," Rep. Green said. "As a result, we are highly
skeptical of the Administration?s proposal to exempt them from reporting
hazardous releases."

"We realize that the livestock and poultry industry is vital to our
nation's economy, and that animal manure can be used beneficially on farms
to fertilize crops and restore nutrients to soil, but we also know that if
improperly managed manure and wastewater from animal feeding operations can
adversely impact water quality through surface runoff and erosion, direct
discharges to surface water, spills and other dry-weather discharges and
leaching into the soil and groundwater." said Rep. Johnson.  "We must guard
against this."

?This report makes it clear that the EPA has failed to assess the extent to
which pollutants linked to animal waste may be impairing human health and
the environment,? said Rep. Solis. ?The EPA?s proposal to exempt industrial
sized animal feeding operations from emissions reporting requirements is
not only irresponsible but also careless and neglectful.?

The GAO report made the following findings:

   Some operations generate more raw waste than U.S.cities produce
   annually.  For example, a beef cattle farm with 140,000 head of cattle
   could produce over 1.6 million tons of manure annually, more than the
   almost 1.4 million tons of waste generated by more than two million
   residents of Houston, Texas.

   The number of CAFOs increased by about 230 percent over the past 20
   yearsfrom about 3,600 in 1982 to almost 12,000 in 2002.  The number of
   animals raised on large farms also increased from more than 257 million
   in 1982 to over 890 million in 2002, an increase of 246 percent.

   EPA has not yet assessed the extent to which air and water pollution
   from CAFOs may be impairing human healthand the environment because it
   lacks key data on the amount of pollutants that CAFOs are discharging.
   At least 15 studies have directly linked air and water pollutants from
   animal waste to specific health or environmental impacts and 12 other
   studies have made indirect linkages between pollutants from animal waste
   and health and environmental impacts.

   EPA has neither the information it needs to assess the extent to which
   CAFOs may be contributing to water pollution, nor the information it
   needs to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The EPA lacks
   reliable, comprehensive data on the number, location and size of CAFO
   operations that have been issued permits and the amount of discharges
   they release.

   EPA does not have the information it needs to effectively regulate

   EPA may be less likely to seek enforcement against a CAFO that it
   believes is discharging pollutants into a water body because it is now
   more difficult to prove that the water body is federally regulated.  The
   GAO found that a 2006 Supreme Court decision regarding the jurisdiction
   of the Clean Water Act has also complicated EPA?s enforcement of CAFO
   regulations.  Further, GAO noted that EPA?s Assistant Administrator for
   Enforcement and Compliance Assurance stated in a memorandum that the ?
   Rapanos decision and EPA?s guidance has resulted in significant adverse
   impacts to the clean water enforcement program.?

   GAO questioned EPA?s proposed rule to exempt animal feeding operations
   from reporting emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide above 100
   pounds per day because EPA ?has not yet completed its data collection
   effort and does not yet know the extent to which animal feeding
   operations are emitting these pollutants.?   The Comprehensive
   Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the
   Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) reporting
   requirements provide government authorities, emergency management
   agencies, and citizens with information about the source and magnitude
   of hazardous releases into the environment.

On September 24th, the Committee on Energy and Commerce?s Environment and
Hazardous Materials Subcommittee will hold a hearing on CAFOs and the EPA?s
proposal to eliminate air emission reporting requirements under CERCLA and
EPCRA for animal feeding operations.  Representatives from the GAO and the
EPA are among those scheduled to testify.

The GAO report is available at:

The March letter to EPA is available athttp://energycommerce.house.gov/

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