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On Cleaning Up the Mess You Make

I’m pretty sure that if a consequence of my business was that I polluted the air, water and soil of my neighbors, I’d be in a bit of trouble. I’d probably have to report what I’m doing and what I’m, um, adding to the air, water and soil around me to the EPA. Someone would (/should) then crack down on my business somehow. I should have to change the way I do things and/or pay an enormous fine for the cleanup of the mess I created. And that would be fair, as you can’t just go around polluting the planet with noxious fumes and walk away.

Unless, of course, your business is the production, confinement, fattening, mutilation and slaughter of nonhuman animals, in which case you’re probably off the hook.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • In "Farms May Be Exempted From Emission Rules" by Elizabeth Williamson in today’s Washington Post, we learn that despite the harmful emissions factory farms produce, the power of their lobbyists, combined of course with the spinelessness and/or greed and/or indifference of many members of our Congress, could very well spell the end of the reporting of the gases that pose health threats to people (no mention of the planet or anyone other than humans). Why is the reporting of the large amounts of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide the "farms" produce such a big deal? (And the award for Mistress of the Obvious goes to Williamson for this gem. But evidently it needs to be said.)

Local public health officials say that if people in an area started getting sick with symptoms pointing to emissions, knowing who was reporting big releases of the gases would be most helpful.

  • Please, drama queen, you say, it’s not like anyone’s actually died from the emissions . . .

The [EPA] estimates that livestock operations generate two-thirds of the ammonia emissions reported in the nation. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies blames manure-pit emissions containing hydrogen sulfide and ammonia for the deaths of at least two dozen people working or living near the operations in the Midwest over the past three decades.

  • As it turns out, according to an EPA scientist, "ammonia concentrations slightly over the reportable levels caused respiratory irritation and that the minimum reportable emissions of hydrogen sulfide ‘could cause acute respiratory irritation and effects to the central nervous system.’"
  • Meanwhile, the National Chicken Council is against the reporting rule because it might put their farms "at risk for lawsuits." Isn’t that the idea? Accountability? So the National Chicken Council doesn’t want to have to be accountable for the damage it does. Why not just say that?
  • Lest you feel the urge to blame Republicans, Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn) sponsored a bill that would actually delist manure as an environmental pollutant under the Superfund law. This happened, coincidentally (no chance) right after several lawsuits were brought against factory farms for their pollution of water sources. Peterson contends that Superfund wasn’t intended to apply to farms (au contraire. Check out the EPA’s response to that here; it’s the first one listed).

Finally, "On Dec. 28, with Congress away for the holidays, the EPA published a notice in the Federal Register of its plan to proceed with the rule change. The public comment period (to the EPA) ends March 28."

For more details and history, read and follow the links in "EPA’s Holiday Gift to Big Ag," By Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    It is depressing how much the powerful and greedy in this country and our politicians drag their knuckles hard on the ground despite all outward appearances of "civilization" (fine clothing and posh surroundings). Comparing them to Neanderthals or apes, though, is a terrible insult to other primates (my apologies to Neanderthals and apes).

    Ultimately though, it is each and every consumer of these products to blame for the mess. The industry is just a means to the consumer's end and wouldn't be so powerful if the consumer didn't buy what they're selling.

    February 26, 2008

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