Litter bill seen as blow to clean environment
August 04, 2006
A growing number of environmental groups have joined together to voice their opposition to legislation introduced July 18, 2006, that would stymie attempts to sue mega farms for contaminating U.S. waterways with huge amounts of litter disposal. Just such an attempt has been made by Drew Edmondson, attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, to protect his state's water supply from degradation caused by sources such as Tyson Foods and Cargill in Arkansas.

H.R. 4321 was introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX-4th) and supported by Roy Blunt (R-MO-7th) and 27 other representatives, one dozen of them Republicans from Texas. It is also supported by a close associate of Blunt, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) who has addressed the Missouri Cattleman's Association on numerous occasions.

Senate bill 3681, dubbed the Agricultural Protection and Prosperity [for big business] Act of 2006, provides the same intent as the house bill and would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 (Superfund) to provide that manure shall not be considered to be a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It was introduced by Pete Domenici (R-MN) and co-sponsored by 22 other senators including Kit Bond and Jim Talent (R-MO), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and curiously someone named Mike Crapo (R-ID).

According to an appeal from the Clean Water Network, large-scale livestock and poultry operations (CAFOs) are often major sources of water pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency and the states, they say, have failed to control the pollution of these CAFOs using the Clean Water Act. The network backs up this claim by citing the EPA's CAFO permitting rules published in 2003 that said that 29 states had specifically cited livestock and poultry operations as contributing to water quality impairments.

The livestock and poultry industries argue that CERCLA threatens the nation’s small family farmers with lawsuits, but opponents to the new legislation say that farmers who apply manure containing nutrients in quantities their crops can take up are protected under the law. CERCLA includes a specific exception for the “normal field application of fertilizer," and only those factory farm operators who have so much manure that they have to dump it on the land to get rid of it, rather than use it to fertilize crops, have potential liability. In addition, any animal feeding operation whose releases are allowed by its Clean Water Act permit may be exempt.

The Clean Water Network statement also includes the following points:

Trying to insinuate that lack of this type of legislation hurts the small farmer, the poultry companies with clout even went so far as to put a bill in the Oklahoma state legislature to deprive Edmondson of his jurisdiction. The legislation failed to become law.

Blogger James E. Tierney, former attorney general of Maine, calls the rationale for this type of legislation "a classic example of large agricultural entities using the "agricultural exemption." "They use it in labor issues, too - and the public is the loser, " Tierney added.

"In the olde days - when I was just a young AG," Tierney said, "we might have been able to turn to what we used to call "the federal government." They used to assist states by coming into these situations and, well, stop the pollution. I do not know whatever happened to that approach to problem solving, but it did seem to work."

Legislators being influenced by a new organization consisting mostly of members of the American Farm Bureau Federation and organizations representing CAFOs that want to reverse the current polluter-pays principle are:

Representatives: Roy Blunt (R-MO-7), Henry Bonilla (R-TX-23), Kevin Brady (R-TX-8), John Carter (R-TX-31), Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Jim Costa (D-CA-20), Nathan Deal (R-GA-10), Louie Gohmert (R-TX-1), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6), Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), Robin Hayes (R-NC-8), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX-5), Tim Holden (D-PA-17), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX-19), Charles Norwood (R-GA-9), Solomon Ortiz (D-TX-27), Tom Osborne (R-NE-23), C.L. Otter (R-ID-1), Ron Paul (R-TX-14), Collin Peterson (D-MN-7), Charles Pickering (R-MS-3), Richard Pombo (R-CA-11), Mike Ross (D-AR-4), John Salazar (D-CO-3), Pete Sessions (R-TX-32), John Shadegg (R-AZ-3), Mike Simpson (R-ID-2), Lamar Smith (R-TX 21), William Thornberry (R-TX-13) and Heather Wilson (R-NM-1).

Senators: Wayne Allard (R-CO), Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Pete Domenici (R-MN), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Trent Lott (R-MS), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Pat Robert (R-KS), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Jim Talent(R-MO), Craig Thomas (R-WY), and John Thune (R-SD).

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