Lawsuit Challenges New NEPA Regulations that Shield CAFOs from Environmental Review

Extreme changes to the regulations have widespread consequences for animals, surrounding communities, and the environment.

Contact: Mike Andrade-Heymsfield, media@aldf.org, 707-364-8387
Betsy Nicholas, betsy@waterkeeperschespeake.org, 202-423-0504

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today a coalition of rural advocacy, environmental, and animal protection organizations, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for new regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will shield federally-funded factory farms — known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — and slaughterhouses from environmental review and limit the ability of the public to know about and challenge the harms caused by these facilities.

CAFOs generate massive amounts of waste, contaminating air, drinking water, and surface waters, and impact the health of both people and animals, all while farmed animals are cruelly confined in small spaces. One way the federal government props up this cruel industry is by providing millions of dollars annually in financial assistance to new and expanding CAFOs and slaughterhouses. Under previous NEPA regulations, federal agencies were required to assess and make public the environmental impact of a new or expanding factory farm or slaughterhouse before any federal funding was approved. CEQ’s new rule allows the government to continue supporting the CAFO industry without accounting for any of the environmental impacts, all the while keeping the public in the dark.

“Factory farms and slaughterhouses already operate with little accountability or transparency for the harm they cause to animals and nearby communities.” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The NEPA environmental review provides the public with information about the harms these facilities cause and a chance to speak up before the government helps build and expand factory farms and slaughterhouses in their communities.”

“All too often, the CAFO industry shows up in rural areas without any notice or consideration of how it will impact people’s health or the local environment, injuring residents without any chance for them to be heard or a clear remedy,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Attorney. “NEPA requires that people be considered stakeholders when major projects are proposed in their communities; CEQ’s new regulations attempt to rewrite these clear statutory requirements to shield a major polluting industry from environmental review.”

Without the transparency provided by NEPA’s environmental review, communities may not even be aware of the construction of slaughterhouses and new factory farms, or the expansion of existing ones, until it is far too late.

“In our region, several CAFOs have received Federal Service Agency (FSA) subsidized loans. All too often the FSA rubber stamps the environmental assessment required under NEPA. It will be a giant step backwards in an already flawed process to strip rural communities the right to know when an industrial facility is being built or expanded in their backyards. These factory farms cause well demonstrated harm to environmental and public health,” said Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

CEQ’s new rule specifically exempts Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees to CAFOs from NEPA review entirely, leaving federal agencies with the ability to guarantee loans for CAFOs that are unable to receive financing anywhere else without having to conduct any environmental review first. Additional provisions in CEQ’s rule could further limit or prevent environmental review of government support for the factory farming industry, including language that could force federal agencies to overlook the climate change impacts of factory farming. CEQ’s new rule also will make it more difficult for members of the public to bring legal challenges when federal agencies fail to adequately review the environmental impacts of the actions, further hobbling communities’ ability to protect themselves.

The coalition includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Association of Irritated Residents.

Complaint

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About the Animal Legal Defense Fund

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

About the Association of Irritated Residents

The Association of Irritated Residents (AIR) is a nonprofit, public interest organization based in California with members in Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, and Stanislaus Counties. AIR formed in 2001 to advocate for clean air and environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley.

About Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 45 years. Follow us on Twitter at @iowacci.

About Waterkeeper Alliance

Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting more than 350 Waterkeeper groups around the world, focusing citizen action on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. The Waterkeeper movement patrols and protects over 2.75 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. For more information, please visit waterkeeper.org.

About Waterkeepers Chesapeake

Waterkeepers Chesapeake is a coalition of 17 Waterkeeper programs working to make the local waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable, fishable and drinkable. Waterkeepers Chesapeake amplifies the voices of each Waterkeeper and mobilizes these organizations to fight pollution and champion clean water. https://waterkeeperschesapeake.org

 The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. IATP has a 30-year history of pursuing policy solutions that benefit family farmers, rural communities and the planet.