Earthrise is working to make sure EPA holds water polluters accountable
Earthrise, in partnership with Food & Water Watch (FWW), filed suit to challenge EPA’s review of pollution limits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’ (CAFOs). Specifically, we are challenging the agency’s finding that no updates or revisions were necessary to EPA’s “effluent limitation guidelines” (ELGs). EPA must review these guidelines every year, according to the Clean Water Act, and strengthen any guidelines that are not protecting impacted waterways.
EPA has not updated CAFO standards since 2008 despite the fact that the current regulations are outdated and unable to control CAFO pollution. EPA made the decision to not update standards yet again in January 2021 after using a 2019 report for their annual review about industry discharges. Unfortunately, that 2019 data was generated from CAFO operators’ self-reporting. However, EPA does not require CAFO emitters to monitor their discharges into waterbodies. This leads to an inaccurate picture of pollution provided by the very same parties the EPA is tasked with overseeing.
This lack of oversight is not because CAFOs are harmless. Local communities suffer many environmental and health impacts from CAFO pollution. Manure and other waste products from CAFOs contaminate water sources and release pollution particles into the air. CAFOs are often situated in or near river flood plains, which increase their potential to create environmental harm to nearby watersheds and waterbodies when inundated with water. Pollutants enter waterbodies through runoff and discharges from these facilities, and manure and other waste products that enter into the environment often carry pathogens. Pathogens’ presence in both water sources and in the air can cause disease, posing large health risks for local communities.
This case has the potential to finally force EPA into action on a critical source of water pollution. Earthrise and FWW recently completed a case in Idaho regarding EPA’s failure to require monitoring of pollution from Idaho CAFOs, and we await a decision from the Ninth Circuit. This case looks to build on that momentum and could make EPA treat CAFOs just like other pollution sources on a national level. If successful in this case, EPA will have to rethink their laissez-faire approach to CAFO emissions and finally revise their long outdated ELGs.