Groups sue EPA over farming air pollution

A coalition of eight environmental, humane and community organizations have filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the federal group has failed to regulate large animal-confinement operations polluting the air and damaging public health.

The alliance, which includes the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, hopes to push the EPA to police air emissions from large pig, cattle, dairy and other livestock facilities.

Tarah Heinzen, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, stated the coalition intends to "compel the Environmental Protection Agency to finally act to address unchecked toxic air pollution from factory farms, a large and growing industry that's almost entirely escaped pollution regulations for decades."

The groups claim that confinement of large collections of animals causes pollution, releasing ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, methane and particulate matter into the air. Petitions asking the EPA to address the issue were filed in 2009 and 2011 but were never acted on. The lack of response was called "unreasonable" by the coalition, and they have demanded a response to the new suit within 90 days.

Researchers, such as Daniel Andersen, an Iowa State University professor, say that there is little evidence that animal confinement causes serious amounts of pollution, and that the complex ventilation systems in use in farms served to protect employees from harm.

The lawsuit could have far-reaching implications for the nation's largest pig-producing state, Iowa. Federal farm data shows that the state's livestock industry, led by pig, poultry and cattle production, generated $14 billion in cash receipts in 2013 alone.

Farms and other organizations should work with environmental consultants, who can conduct assessment and remediation, to allow smooth operations while protecting the environment.