July 17, 2019

Earthrise and Food & Water Watch Seek to Address Adverse Air Quality Impacts from Factory Farms

Concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”) are large scale, industrialized “farming” operations that cause a multitude of harmful impacts to the environment and people living nearby. CAFOs are often associated with adverse impacts to water resources due to the run-off of animal waste from the operations. However, CAFOs also cause significant adverse impacts to air quality, which can have negative public health effects.

Particulate matter and ammonia are common pollutants emitted from poultry CAFOs and both can cause respiratory health concerns. In fact, ammonia is listed as a “hazardous substance” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and an “extremely hazardous substance” under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (“EPCRA”). CAFO ventilation fans also blow feathers, particles of poultry litter, dust and other allergens, and pathogens into the surrounding air. Exposure to these airborne contaminants has been associated with numerous adverse health effects, including asthma, chronic cough and phlegm, allergic reactions, and chronic bronchitis.

One area where CAFOs have established a strong presence is the Delmarva Peninsula near the Chesapeake Bay. Poultry CAFOs in particular dominate the area. One factor that facilitates the construction and operation of CAFOs is the ability of CAFO owners to receive loans or loan guarantees from the federal government.

Unfortunately, the federal government—specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its sub-agency, the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”)—in authorizing its loans or loan guarantees often does not sufficiently evaluate the environmental effects of the projects it is green-lighting. On August 23, 2017, Earthrise, on behalf of Food & Water Watch, filed a Complaint against the USDA and the FSA alleging several claims under the Administrative Procedure Act for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. Our claims under NEPA included failure to consider an adequate range of alternatives, failure to properly analyze cumulative impacts and failure to take a hard look at impacts to air quality impacts. Air impacts are particularly concerning for the facility’s neighbors who are concerned about the increased health risks for themselves and visiting grandchildren.

Since we filed the case, the federal government has filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the Court denied. We have filed two motions to complete the administrative record, both of which were resolved favorably for our client. And, most recently, the Court granted our motion to amend the complaint over the government’s objection. We are now in the process of briefing the merits of the case for summary judgment, which will be completed by the end of 2019, so check back then for further updates.