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OMAHA (DTN) -- Several environmental and animal-welfare organizations filed two lawsuits Wednesday in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to require EPA to tighten air-quality regulations on livestock operations across the country.
The environmental and animal-welfare agitators -- Environmental Integrity Project, Center for Food Safety, and the Humane Society of the United States -- argue there is well-documented science that the same compounds and elements released by livestock emissions are considered harmful. They argue EPA has just failed to apply the same air-emission standards to livestock operations that are applied elsewhere.
Conversely, agricultural groups said Wednesday that the plaintiff organizations are trying to continue the oft-criticized tactic of sue-and-settle that has drawn fire in the past.
Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, called on EPA to regulate "unchecked toxic air pollution from factory farms."
Even though livestock operations generate 500 million tons of manure every year -- according to the plaintiffs -- the groups charge that CAFOs largely avoid the waste-treatment requirements that cities face for human waste. That leads to increased pollutants in the air such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfides and greenhouse gases, the groups claim. The litigation argues EPA has failed to apply the Clean Air Act in rural communities in the same way EPA does with cities.
The lawsuits are based on petitions filed in 2009 and 2011 by some of national organizations calling on EPA to regulate air emissions from livestock operations. The groups said EPA failed to respond to the petitions to regulate. The groups also concluded through Freedom of Information Act requests that EPA had made little effort since 2012 to respond to the filed petitions.
An EPA spokeswoman responded to a request for comment: "We will review and respond."
Michael Formica, chief environmental counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, said the litigation isn't surprising because environmental groups have been operating out of the same playbook on sue-and-settle strategies against EPA.
"They file the petition, the agency doesn't want to respond to it, they take too long, so the groups turn around, file and sue," Formica said.
Formica cited similar water-quality litigation now going on in both the Chesapeake Bay and Mississippi River basins. In the Mississippi River basin, EPA is siding with agricultural groups to resist a broader regulatory regime. "It's not as if they have not been regulating livestock," Formica said. "They have been doing this for a long, long time. There are a lot of programs out there right now."
Formica said EPA will likely file a motion to have the lawsuits dismissed. He said EPA is dealing with other major battles right now involving climate change and carbon emissions from major power plants.
"The last thing they want to do is get into a major fight with rural America," Formica said.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also came from the agency's air office and is well versed in the issues regarding air-quality standards.
Environmental Integrity Project maintains EPA failed to regulate ammonia from livestock operations even though livestock is the dominant source for ammonia. Heinzen said her group seeks to hold livestock operations to the same environmental standards as communities face with their wastewater treatment facilities.