FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART V: Lack of Regulation Spells Trouble in Illinois and Beyond
By Karen Steuer
The Lack of Regulation Spells Trouble in Illinois and Beyond is part of a five-part series. Click here to read Part I. Click here to read Part II. Click here to read Part III. Click here to read Part IV.
In previous posts, we have focused on the link between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and water pollution and the effect on our nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. But the states surrounding the bay are not alone in facing this issue. In Illinois, for example, water quality problems have caused real concern about that state’s regulation of the rapidly growing hog industry.
Illinois is the fourth-largest hog-producing state in the country, raising about 4.5 million hogs annually. By 2008, 96 percent, of the lakes assessed by the state were listed as “impaired”—and agriculture was cited as the primary cause.
Illinois law allows massive hog production facilities within a quarter-mile of homes and a half-mile of towns, and residents are worried about their health and property values. Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, a coalition of family farmers and community groups, reports that some citizens have spent their life savings battling factory farms. Responding to these concerns, the coalition petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008 to transfer the authority to manage pollutant discharges from the state to the EPA, saying that Illinois had failed to “keep stride with rapid changes in Illinois’ livestock industry.”
Two years later, the EPA told Illinois to clean up its program and recommended a comprehensive survey of livestock facilities. At the time, regional EPA officials noted that neither they nor the state knew the locations of the majority of the animal feeding operations in Illinois. The agencies have since agreed on a plan to implement the Clean Water Act and to locate and count CAFOs. But if the authorities responsible for protecting state waters don’t know the locations of CAFOs that may be discharging manure into local waterways, water quality is at risk.
Locating farms that may contain more than 10,000 hogs or 38,000 chickens shouldn’t be that difficult. Alabama does it with a publicly accessible list that includes the number of animals and the nearest surface water likely to be affected. Missouri and Ohio provide interactive maps with CAFO locations. Clearly, maintaining this information for regulatory purposes can and should be done.
But even the states with data have been slow to share the information with the EPA. Action at the federal level also remains elusive, even though in 2008 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress that the EPA needed more information and “a clearly defined strategy to protect air and water quality” from CAFOs. GAO also noted that no federal agency collects consistent, reliable data on CAFOs and strongly recommended that the EPA create such a database.
Unfortunately, earlier this year, under stiff pressure from the animal agriculture industry, the EPA withdrew a proposal that would have established the GAO-recommended database. Opponents contended that the states already collected the necessary information, which was available to the EPA if the agency just worked with the states to gather it all into one database.
The Pew Environment Group has found that, although some states maintain readily accessible databases, others keep the information in arcane locations with non-user friendly formats that are not consistent from state to state. A standardized approach is clearly needed to protect public health and the environment, as mandated by the Clean Water Act 40 years ago.
The EPA should have held its ground on this issue. Four years after the GAO raised concerns, the agency still doesn't know the location of many of the country’s CAFOs, let alone how much manure they generate or how the waste is handled. The absence of this information potentially represents a major threat to public health in rural communities where sources of water may be polluted or unsafe. Both the federal government and the states need to move forward on this issue.
Make your voice heard by signing a petition urging President Obama to strengthen Clean Water Act permit regulations for CAFOs.
Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.
Karen Steuer joined Pew in 2008 as director of government relations for the Pew Environment Group. Steuer has extensive experience in environmental work in Washington, D.C., dating to 1991, when she served as deputy staff director for the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. Since then, she has served as a special assistant to Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts; as director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Program on Commercial Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife; as an independent consultant on environmental and wildlife issues with Green Answers; and as vice president, government affairs, for the National Environmental Trust. Steuer holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Goddard College.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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