Washington, D.C. -- A coalition of eight groups representing family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates and concerned citizens throughout the country filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture today. The suit aims to stop a USDA policy allowing industrial agriculture facilities to set up operations in communities without undergoing any review of their impact on local families or providing any notice of their planned operations to neighbors in the impacted areas.
The groups bringing the suit are Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Irritated Residents (Cal.), Citizens Action Coalition (Ind.), Dakota Rural Action (S.D.), Food & Water Watch, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and White River Waterkeeper (Ark.)*
The USDA’s rule change, adopted in 2016 by its Farm Service Agency, grants exemptions from the usual process of notice, comment and oversight in cases where the government is providing taxpayer-subsidized loans to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) considered “medium-sized” by the USDA. Such facilities are authorized to hold nearly 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 700 dairy cows. By failing to review the financing for these facilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Trump Administration has helped cloak their planned operations in secrecy, preventing rural communities from obtaining information regarding the impact of these operations on local air and water quality. In so doing, the Administration promotes factory farms over family farms.
Today’s lawsuit alleges that both the rulemaking process, and the final rule now being implemented by the Trump Administration, violate NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide adequate notice of the proposed rule change and refusing to clarify why medium-sized CAFOs should be provided this special treatment and automatically exempt. Between the rule’s implementation in August 2016 and December 2017, the government allowed 40 such operations in four Arkansas counties alone with no public comment or environmental assessment. During the same time frame, eight such operations in Iowa, housing nearly 20,000 pigs and generating as much untreated sewage as a town of 200,000 residents, were also allowed to escape any assessment or comment period.
“Responsible agricultural operations that are committed to being both good neighbors and good stewards of the communities in which they operate have nothing to fear from notice to the community and an assessment of their operations,” the coalition of groups in today’s lawsuit said. “This irresponsible change in the rules that have helped protect rural and small communities for decades is, instead, designed to protect polluters and undermine transparency. Small, family farms and their neighbors are disadvantaged while huge corporations are given a government green light to operate with impunity. That’s not only morally wrong; it’s clearly illegal, too. Though we represent a broad and diverse coalition of citizens and advocates from across the country, we are all alarmed at the impact of this change and share a common goal of ensuring USDA looks out for family farms and rural communities, and not just the interests of giant corporations.”
“Trump’s USDA has handed a gift to polluting factory farms in violation of federal law,” said Tarah Heinzen, staff attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Government agencies shouldn’t be handing taxpayer money to industrial agriculture operations without any public oversight, or any review into the considerable environmental impacts on the surrounding community.”
*Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Irritated Residents, Citizens Action Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Food & Water Watch are represented by ALDF, Public Justice, and Food & Water Watch.
Dakota Rural Action and White River Waterkeeper are represented by Public Justice and Food & Water Watch.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]