WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency published a rule today exempting huge factory farming operations from federal safety and transparency laws that require the reporting of hazardous substance releases.
Today’s rule creates a reporting loophole for industrial facilities with thousands of farm animals. These factory farms are known to release harmful airborne pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that are linked to respiratory and other health problems.
“The Trump EPA’s deeply unjust exemption unlawfully hides information about factory farms’ noxious emissions from emergency workers and at-risk neighbors,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of protecting people from these hazardous releases, Trump officials are shielding polluters and keeping the rest of us in the dark.”
The federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires facilities such as factory farms to report releases of hazardous substances like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to state and local authorities. Those reports must be made available to the public.
The reporting requirements enable communities and emergency responders to protect themselves against harmful exposure to pollution. They also support the development of emergency-response and preparedness plans.
Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are identified under federal law as extremely hazardous substances. These respiratory irritants can decrease lung function and cause severe headaches, nausea and eye and skin damage. Acute exposure can even lead to death.
Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide releases can also contaminate air, water and soil and harm wildlife.
Practically all factory farms release ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in some amount. The federal reporting requirements sidestepped by today’s rule applies solely to large operations with the potential to cause significant harm to communities because only they release enough pollution to trigger the law’s reporting obligations.
“The Trump EPA is replacing Congress’s judgment with its own, and concealing the dangerous amount of pollution being produced by the nation’s largest industrial factory farming facilities,” said Connor. “This reckless step backward will make it much harder for rural communities to protect themselves.”
Similar previous efforts by the EPA to exempt factory farms from the reporting requirements were rejected by the D.C. Court of Appeals as unlawful in 2017.