Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved exempting large concentrated animal feeding operations from having to report emissions of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other pollutants. Early this week, three non-profit environmental groups promised to try to turn that decision around, citing the poultry industry as a prime contributor of ammonia pollution.
Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said: "This is an example of the worst kind of midnight regulation abuse by an administration heading out the door. The poultry industry's lobbyists are definitely hoping that a final rule will be published before January 20, 2009. Then the exemption will take effect after the 30 day 'waiting period' required by law under the Congressional Review Act expires – before the Obama Administration can do anything about it.
That exemption would prevent CAFOs from having to report their emissions of ammonia and other noxious pollutants under federal "right to know" laws. The proposal is apparently expected to be approved before the Obama Administration is sworn in on January 21, 2009.
Based on data from multiple (uncited) studies according to Schaeffer, broiler producers in the top 10 states released an estimated 481,764,049 pounds of ammonia in 2007 – more than eight times the combined total reported by industrial sources – such as steel mills and oil refineries -- to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.
The top 10 states (in descending order of emissions) are Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Based on a recent study for U.S. EPA in Indiana, egg laying operations in the top ten states released an estimated 221,551,888 pounds of ammonia in 2007, with top ten states including Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, California, Arkansas, North Carolina and Florida.
The EPA has not established air quality standards for ammonia. But according to Schaeffer, studies show that concentrations of ammonia in the exhaust from some barns appear to exceed occupational exposure limits established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"Creating a special exemption from toxic pollution right-to-know laws for poultry operations would leave rural communities in the dark about potential health risks," contended Ed Hopkins, director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.
Waterkeeper Alliance Chesapeake Regional Coordinator Michele M. Merkel said: "The Bush Administration has granted the industry an unwarranted exemption that prevents emergency responders and the public from accessing information about harmful releases of toxic chemicals. It's time that the administration put the health of citizens and the environment over the interests of Big Poultry corporate lobbyists."