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Farming as an environmental issue

By Dylan Matthews

Good news out of the EPA today, as the agency has settled a lawsuit from the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance by agreeing to tougher regulation of factory farms:

Animal waste, bacteria and parasites from chickens, pigs and cows drain into streams and rivers, posing a threat to human health.

The E.P.A. has agreed to propose a rule that will require concentrated animal feeding operations to report detailed data to the agency every five years, including information on type and capacity of manure storage facilities, quantity of manure generated, available land acreage to apply manure and how excess manure is disposed of.

Although not a carbon issue, this does set a good precedent for EPA involvement in regulating emissions from livestock operations. It's common knowledge at this point that meat production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases, but discussions of new EPA rules governing emissions tend to ignore the issue. If environmental groups are getting serious about challenging meat producers in this case, perhaps they can on climate issues as well.

What's more, environmental groups have an important ally here. Though not directly involved in this case, the Humane Society of the United States has gone from a quiet advocacy group to a remarkably effective lobbying operation, as detailed in a great Paul Starobin piece in National Journal this past week. It's a remarkable achievement for a group lacking a natural constituency, and one that, unlike environmental groups, doesn't have many other well-funded groups to work with. Given some coordination, a green/Humane alliance on tougher factory farm regulation could be pretty formidable.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Washington Post editor  |  May 28, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
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I think there is a greenhouse gas issue with Methane. Have you ever driven past a feedlot? Try I-5 in Central California.

Posted by: Mimikatz | May 28, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

It is definitely a public health and climate issue that has long been overlooked. Kudos to EPA.

Posted by: weiwentg | May 28, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

"The E.P.A. has agreed to propose a rule" brought me the best grin of the day! If the greenies can be placated by an agreement to propose a rule, life would be wonderful -- I can honestly say I'd be glad to elect people who will appoint bureaucrats who will propose rules all day long!

Posted by: rmgregory | May 28, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

The regulation and enforcement jurisdiction over carbon emissions, including now farm-based carbon, is going to be a major undertaking. I hope the funding is really in place all for the new responsibility.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 28, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

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