Giant corporations pollute rural communities, harming our health and damaging our lands, water, and air. It’s time to hold polluters accountable.
Hold Polluters Accountable
Stop Taxpayer Funding of Industrial Animal Agriculture
Tax exemptions and abatements originally enacted to protect small and midsize farms have been exploited by large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that operate more like a factory than a farm. These operations have industrial-scale environmental impact, but they continue to be defined as “agricultural” and are thus exempt from many rules that govern other polluting industries.
CAFOs, including manure storage, have a tax advantage over pasture-based livestock operations.
Tax exemptions reduce revenue to the state and county, while CAFOs themselves put extra strain on local resources, with additional wear on country roads, water use, and potential need for pollution remediation. Iowa has reported a loss of $4.5 million in county revenue due to CAFO property tax exemptions. State policymakers should consider sunsetting tax exemptions that disproportionately benefit CAFOs and implement exemptions that incentivize pasture-based livestock operations.
In many states, legislators with ties to agribusiness have passed laws to favor CAFO development and have dismantled provisions that give communities a voice in CAFO siting or that protect public health. For state policymakers wanting to slow or reverse this trend, perhaps the most important action is to be aware of any new or recent legislation proposing to exempt agriculture from regulation or tax – these are generally bills to promote CAFO development and should be opposed.
Lawmakers can push for stricter environmental protections to regulate air and water pollution from large-scale livestock operations; require setback distances from homes, schools, businesses. and roads; ensure that manure is responsibly managed; and increase public participation in CAFO permitting and siting.
In almost all states, responsibility for enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been delegated to the state’s environmental protection agency. The states should be issuing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for CAFOs over a certain size. Permits should protect surface and groundwater, include agency monitoring and inspections, have mechanisms for enforcement, and include robust public input. Unfortunately, the CAFO permitting process is often simply pro forma, and state agency budgets are often too low for effective inspection and enforcement. State policymakers can support adequate funding for the agencies that oversee CAFO permitting to cover inspection, compliance, and enforcement, as well as ensure they have the authority to issue penalties for bad actors and repeat violators. If policymakers think that the enforcement agency is not properly doing its job with regard to CAFOs, they can advance legislation to require the state agency to report on the number of permits, inspections, and violations. and enforcement actions that have been taken against CAFOs in the state.
Manure-to-energy projects are rarely economically feasible without public subsidies, particularly when construction and operation costs are taken into account. Additionally, they require an enormous volume of manure in order to operate. While manure-based biogas is touted as being environmentally sustainable, its development actually relies on CAFO expansion – which is definitely not sustainable. In fact, manure-to-energy projects are generally a way for CAFOs to externalize the costs of production onto the public. Further, since they are not renewable energy sources, they should not be included in state renewable energy portfolios or receive tax credits. State officials should work to strike any existing manure-to-energy components of a state renewable energy portfolio.
The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides funds to farm operations to implement environmentally sustainable practices. CAFOs access millions of dollars of EQIP funds for pollution control measures such as upgraded manure storage, but mitigating manure pollution does not make these facilities environmentally sustainable. EQIP funding is distributed from the USDA through a state conservationist, advised by a technical committee of stakeholders. State policymakers could pass a resolution encouraging the state conservationist to direct all EQIP funding to pasture-based livestock operations to avoid subsiding CAFOs with public funding. State policymakers could also work to ensure impacted communities or pasture-based producers are seeking appointments to the state technical committee, which oversees the distribution of EQIP funds.
There are also animal welfare concerns with CAFOs. These include the use of gestation crates for breeding female pigs that are too small for the pigs to turn around; battery cages for chickens that do not allow the hens to spread their wings; and the practice of docking the tails of dairy cows, which is painful and causes distress, as they are then unable to swat biting flies. There are no animal welfare regulations at the federal level, and because of this, some states have taken action to ban cruel farming practices.
Overall, the landscape of CAFO regulation in the states is bleak in that community protections from CAFO pollution are inadequate at best. As a result, lawmakers in some states have proposed an outright moratorium on permitting new and expanding CAFOs altogether.
Protect Commercial Fisheries against Industrial Aquaculture Threats
Industrial aquaculture facilities (fish farms) can be considered the “factory farms” of the sea, posing similar environmental and economic threats to the local ecosystem and community.
Fish farms threaten recreationally and commercially important wild fish stocks. As in land-based industrial livestock operations, industrially farmed fish are densely stocked in pens, with the primary difference being that these are floating in water. Some fish are farmed in freshwater or in inland ponds; others are raised in an offshore or open ocean environment.
Farmed fish are bred to grow larger and more quickly than their wild counterparts, and if they escape from captivity, they can outcompete wild fish for habitat and food. Because disease can be common, these operations often rely on antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals to keep the fish alive until harvest. Pollution is a significant concern, particularly with open water operations, as uneaten feed, medication, and excrement enters the ecosystem in high volume, causing chemical and nutrient imbalance, algal blooms, and hypoxia, or so-called “dead zones.”
State jurisdiction overfishing laws extends three miles offshore. Alaska has banned commercial finfish farming within its three-mile state limit. Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles offshore, regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). All 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (except Alaska) participate in the National Coastal Zone Management Program (NCZMP), in which each state or territory administers its own coastal management plan under NOAA’s guidance and approval. Each state’s management plan provides consistency between federal and state agency decision-making for the coastal region, and local governments rely on the plans to make decisions impacting a coastal area. State policymakers can communicate with their NCZMP administering agencies that industrial aquaculture does not belong in federal waters.
One class of chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is worth particular note. PFAS chemicals are included in a wide range of products, from takeout containers to firefighting foam; as a result, testing regularly finds it in drinking water. Mounting research links PFAS exposure to multiple cancers, reproductive damage, endocrine disruption, and impaired fetal development. The substances are known as “forever chemicals,” as they take thousands of years to break down. Remediation is timely and costly. Farmers who find PFAS contamination in their soil often lack the resources and support for remediation, leaving them with no option but to leave the land fallow, costing them the profit of the crop they otherwise would have planted. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new regulations for PFAS chemicals. In the meantime, states are addressing the issue in various ways.
- Federal: Pass the Farm System Reform Act, a bill that would hold corporate agribusinesses accountable for their pollution, enact a factory farm moratorium, and help transition to more sustainable livestock production.
The Inflation Reduction Act invested nearly $20 Billion in voluntary conservation programs to reduce emissions and mitigate the efforts of climate change. In a rare victory, these funds did not include the typical 50% requirement for livestock operations — an important step in reducing taxpayers’ funding of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
- Federal: Ensure polluters are responsible for the cleanup of PFAS, a dangerous forever chemical. Cleanup now falls on farmers and rural utility systems, who are already stretched to the breaking point. Congress and the administration must invest in robust testing and hold the companies who profited from PFAS accountable for the environmental harms to land and drinking water.
- Federal: Pass the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act, which ensures that communities who experience environmental harms have legal avenues to hold polluters accountable, mandates federal agencies provide early and meaningful community involvement for all National Environmental Policy Act processes, funds health equity research, and supports equitable access to the outdoors.
- State: Pass moratoria on new and expanding CAFOs.
- State: Regulate CAFOs like any other pollution industry, and consider stripping agricultural operations over a certain size of agricultural exemptions from regulation.
- State: Ban inhumane farming practices such as gestation crates, battery cages, and tail docking.
- State: Direct public dollars such as tax exemptions and EQIP funds away from CAFOs and toward pasture-based operations.
- State: Stop subsidizing manure-to-energy projects.
- State: Regulate the use of PFAS in industrial processes and sale of goods containing PFAS.
- State: Set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFAS in drinking water.
- State: Direct funds for increased testing and environmental remediation of PFAS contamination.
- State Coastal Zone Management Programs should not include industrial-scale aquaculture and should instead prioritize the health of wild fish stocks, ecosystem integrity, and the livelihoods of independent fishing communities.
- Missouri (2015 MO HB 141) has considered legislation to require that any increase of checkoff fees be subject to a vote by all producers of that commodity.
- Oregon (2015 OR SB 289) considered conducting periodic legislative review of state boards and commissions, including commodity councils.
- In Illinois (2019 IL SB 1481), legislators considered allowing county governments to have a binding recommendation in the approval process of a new CAFO permit.
- Oregon (2017 OR SB 197) considered a bill to direct the State Department of Agriculture to regulate emissions from large-scale dairy operations.
- North Carolina (2021 NC HB 913) legislators considered a bill to require large-scale poultry operations to submit an annual animal waste management plan.
- In Maryland (2017 MD SB 773), which has many poultry operations, legislators considered a bill to direct the Department of the Environment to conduct a compliance assessment of itself and the state’s CAFOs with state and federal regulations.
- Oregon (2021 OR SB 583), Iowa (2021 IA HF 440), Maryland (2020 MD HB 1312), Rhode Island (2021 RI SB 469), and Ohio (2021 OH HB 349) have considered legislation to pause the construction of new and expanding CAFOs until better laws are in place.
- New Jersey (2021 NJ SB 3041) is considering a bill to ban gestation and veal crates and name restricting movement or providing inadequate space to farm animals a criminal offense.
- Nevada (2021 NV AB399) passed a bill banning the sale of eggs from hens raised in battery cages and required all eggs sold in the state to be from cage-free facilities.
- Iowa lawmakers considered a bill (2019 IA HF 186) to remove CAFO manure pits from a property tax exemption.
- In Missouri, as a result of participation by pasture-based producers and advocates, the NRCS state technical committee implemented a rule that no new or expanding CAFOs in Missouri are eligible for EQIP dollars, which has reduced EQIP funds going to livestock waste management from 35 percent to 15 percent in recent years.
- New York (2019 NY S 6599) recently passed a bill that would prohibit waste-to-energy projects to be included in its future renewable energy platform.
- In 2021, Oregon allowed the expiration of a tax credit for manure, which was intended to promote manure-to-energy projects.
- Alaska (AS 16.40.210) bans commercial finfish farming within its state waters.