Complaint Filed Against Council on Environmental Quality Critiques New Feeding Operation Rule

Organizations filed a complaint on Wednesday in the District of Columbia against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and its chairperson, Mary Neumayr, challenging provisions of the council’s final rule published in July which exempted federal funding of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from review through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The plaintiffs, including Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Irritated Residents, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., and Waterkeepers Chesapeake argued that CAFOs continue expanding and cause harm to the climate, drinking water quality, and the confined animals. They also cited depreciation of property values near the facilities.

The complaint stated, “The CAFO industry typically propagates in a concentrated fashion. A new slaughterhouse inserts itself into a community and, in short order, new CAFOs will sprout up and existing CAFOs will expand to supply animals for the slaughterhouse. The concentration of CAFO industry facilities in small geographic areas intensifies their effects on certain communities, watersheds, and ecosystems.”

CAFOs, according to the complaint, are frequently controlled by large corporations and “confine massive numbers of animals for the purposes of producing meat, dairy, and egg products.” They can hold thousands of cows or pigs, or millions of chickens. The complaint said a 200-cow dairy CAFO would generate similar sewage to a city with 96,000 people.

The plaintiffs argued that the federal government, which supplies funding to CAFOs through lending programs, previously had regulations through the NEPA which would analyze situations before loans for new CAFOs were granted. This ensured a review before the CAFO was built and had a negative environmental impact and that notice would be given to neighboring farms or homes and advocacy organizations. The new rule, however, removes the analysis, feedback, and notice process previously built into the industry. The complaint says the CEQ’s regulation will now assume the facilities do not have an environmental impact since they are not subject to review under the NEPA.

The plaintiffs said, “CEQ’s decision to give yet another free pass to this industry violates both NEPA and the APA (Administrative Procedure Act). CEQ acted arbitrarily and capriciously, contrary to law, and not in accordance with law in enacting the Final Rule. Further, the Final Rule exceeds CEQ’s statutory authority.”

The plaintiffs, represented by lawyers with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asked the court to declare the CEQ’s actions illegal and withdraw the inflicting portions of the law, restoring NEPA review of federal funding for feeding operations.