Factory Farms Win, Drinking Water Loses: EPA Turns a Blind Eye to Pollution

Late Tuesday, in a move dripping with disappointment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prioritized big factory farming interests over our communities and essential drinking water. For context: six years ago, advocacy powerhouses like Food & Water Watch (FWW), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network petitioned the EPA, calling for stronger regulations to combat water pollution from countless factory farms. When met with silence, they sued the agency last year for the deafening delay.

Instead of taking decisive action, the EPA’s latest response was a half-hearted pledge to study factory farm pollution. And here’s the catch: a federal subcommittee to kick off this investigation won’t meet until 2024, taking possibly another 18 months for findings. This sluggish timeline risks leaving the pivotal decision of regulating factory farm pollution in potentially conservative hands post the upcoming Presidential elections.

Tarah Heinzen, FWW’s legal director, hit the nail on the head when she said, “EPA’s deeply flawed response amounts to yet more delay and completely misses the moment.” The harsh reality? The devastating impacts of factory farm pollution are already crystal clear, making the EPA’s pledge feel like a redundant rerun.

Sierra Club warns us that “water pollution is possible at virtually any point in a CAFO’s operation.” The negligence is staggering: untreated animal waste is filled with pathogens, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and even heavy metals. The imagery is enough to churn stomachs: waste overflows leading to contaminated waterways, stormwater mingling with manure, and even catch basins accidentally redirecting waste into our vital water sources. CFS bluntly described the scenario, likening factory farms to “sewerless cities.”

Imagine the horror of having drinking water laced with cancer-inducing nitrates or communities unable to enjoy their local water sources due to contamination. It’s an absolute travesty, and the data speaks volumes. Drawing from EPA’s own 2020 figures, FWW highlights that pollution from these industrial animal factories compromises over 14,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus a staggering 90,000 acres of lakes and ponds nationwide.

Amy van Saun, a legal force at CFS, passionately points out that we have an undeniable right to untainted, safe water. “We cannot afford to wait any longer to stop the tide of pollution from animal factories.” It’s telling that less than a third of America’s largest 21,000 factory farms have the permits required to discharge pollutants into our water systems. It paints a bleak picture, one where factory farms gain an unjustifiable advantage at the expense of our environment, independent farmers, and public health.

Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy aptly summarized the situation: “Today’s EPA decision kicks the can down the road.” Rather than taking a bold stand for our communities and safeguarding our waterways, it appears that the EPA, for now, is letting factory farms off the hook. As we continue to push for a greener, cleaner future, it’s evident that our battle is far from over.