What seemed like a basic information request seems to have been too much for factory farms that prefer to keep things under wraps.
The EPA originally planned to issue a final rule this month that would require the owners of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to report certain data, such as the amount of waste facilities generate, and where it goes. But according to the Associated Press, after industry groups threatened to sue if the rule was adopted, the EPA withdrew the proposed rule.
Transparency is (apparently) too much to ask. This is terribly disappointing, considering the fact that billions are spent cleaning up water pollution caused by farms – some with CAFOs housing tens of thousands of animals that produce more sewage than many cities, according to the AP.
Where does all of that manure go? You'd think the agency charged with regulating potential violators of the Clean Water Act would be privy to that answer, but a comprehensive CAFO inventory remains nonexistent.
While the EPA attempts to gather information on CAFOs "from other state, local and federal sources," we're left to rely on honest industry whistleblowers to expose harmful waste management practices. But they risk a lot bringing their agribusiness employers out of the dark. Case in point: a Pilgrim Pride employee was fired for allegedly reporting environmental violations. Luckily, he was compensated with $50,000, though it was in exchange for not seeking reinstatement.
Wouldn't it be better if companies just came clean at the start? It's no revelation that Big Ag would hide evidence of water pollution, but the industry even actively opposes having to reveal its basic operating procedures. It's upsetting that the EPA gave up the fight for information the government has lacked for far too long. Leaving the government, and the public (who is directly impacted by waterways near CAFOs) in the dark shouldn’t even be an option!
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.