A Free Pass for Factory Farms?
Mark Twain noted that “No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” Apparently the efforts to combat global warming aren’t safe either, as an obscure procedural vote in the House of Representatives this week threw a major roadblock in the way of science-based solutions.
By a vote of 267-147, the House passed a motion by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), instructing the conference committee on the Interior Appropriations bill to keep an amendment by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from being allowed to gather any data on the contribution that animal agriculture makes to climate change. The House bill had included this Latham provision, but the Senate had rejected a similar amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), meaning the conferees from both chambers had to negotiate on whether it stayed in the final bill.
The Senate and House leaders of the Interior Appropriations subcommittees, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), fought hard to defeat these hostile maneuvers by lawmakers too closely aligned with agribusiness and to preserve the EPA’s authority to collect data on greenhouse gas emissions from the largest industrial factory farms. After the House vote, though, the bill was finalized with the Latham amendment included, and will soon be sent to the president for his signature.
The HSUS and a coalition of environmental and public health groups have petitioned the EPA to begin regulating air pollution from factory farms, and the agency recently announced that the largest animal factories (only those emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases from manure) would have to report on their emissions. But now Congress will block the agency’s action.
The rhetoric on the House floor from Simpson and others would make one think that a simple reporting requirement would force every American farmer out of business, and all the agricultural jobs would move to Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Simpson even opined: “If the EPA had existed in Biblical times, there is no question in my mind that it would have regulated gas emissions from Noah’s Ark. Poor Noah and his livestock; they could withstand a 40-day flood, but they would never have survived the EPA.”
But Noah wasn’t confining animals in industrial factories, dumping thousands of tons of manure into lagoons, polluting our air and water, jeopardizing public health, or harming rural communities. Chairman Dicks pointed out the narrow focus of the agency’s rule, noting “that thousands of small farmers would be exempted, and only the 90 largest manure management systems in the country would be required to report their emissions, those who annually emit as much in greenhouse gases as 58,000 barrels of oil.”
It’s a setback for science and transparency, and it ties the hands of the U.S. at a time when our federal officials are about to sit down with leaders of many other countries in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on how to meet this global challenge. How can we develop good public policy solutions based on sound science if we can’t even collect data? With worldwide animal agriculture accounting for nearly one-fifth (or perhaps more) of all greenhouse gas emissions, Congress must stop giving the livestock sector a free pass—every industry must come to the table and be part of the solution.