The Society of Environmental Journalists filed formal comments March 26, 2008, opposing an EPA proposal to exempt feedlots from laws requiring them to report their emissions of toxic chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
EPA proposed the exemption in the Federal Register of Dec. 28, 2007. It would exempt large feeding operations for animals like cattle, pigs, and chickens from toxic release reporting requirements under two laws: the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or "Superfund") and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Those two laws are a keystone of environmental data in the US and important tools used by environmental reporters.
Agriculture groups had tried - and failed - to get the exemption enacted by Congress since at least 2004. The current proposal is an effort to do by rulemaking what they could not accomplish by legislation.
The comments, signed by SEJ President Tim Wheeler and First Amendment Task Force Chair Ken Ward Jr., stressed that SEJ was not taking any position on any air pollution issue - but only on the information disclosure impacts of the rule. The comments, dated March 27 (the filing deadline), were filed electronically March 26.
"Our interest in this issue centers on the harm which will be caused by exempting agriculture operations which generate animal waste from the existing public notification requirements for airborne contaminant releases," the SEJ letter stated.
"Unless reports of such events are required, the public may be subjected to adverse health, economic and other consequences without information about the source or content of the hazard," the letter said. "If information about airborne contaminant releases are no longer reported, the community right-to-know principle is made sterile, leaving the public no information and thus no recourse to hold the source of the hazardous emissions accountable."