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Unlovely lagoons.

Byline: The Register-Guard

In recent decades, livestock and poultry production in the United States has undergone a transformation that has serious environmental consequences.

Traditional farms increasingly have been replaced by commercial animal growing operations designed to maximize profits through economies of scale. The largest 5 percent of these farm factories are called "concentrated animal feeding operations," or CAFOs.

Each year, CAFOs generate an estimated 300 million tons of manure containing an array of contaminants that seep into waterways and groundwater in 29 states, including Oregon. At Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, decomposing manure at the industrial mega-dairy emits thousands of pounds of ammonia each day into the air, contributing to haze and acid rain in the Columbia River Gorge.

At many CAFOs, manure is stored in sprawling sludge lagoons and eventually sprayed or applied as fertilizer. In recent years, major lagoon spills have been reported in a dozen states, including Washington.

Federal regulation of CAFOs has been notoriously weak, and individual states, including Oregon, have attempted, with only modest success, to regulate the industry. CAFO owners often attempt to dodge legal responsibility for waste pollution by requiring that local farmers assume responsibility for the waste. Such agreements haven't shielded them, however, from the federal Superfund program, which attempts to trace pollution to its original sources and to hold accountable all parties involved.

Now, the CAFO industry wants Congress to permanently exempt it from the Superfund liability and oversight. An industry coalition, ironically named Farmers for Clean Air and Water, is lobbying law- makers to pass a bill that would bar federal officials from listing manure as a hazardous substance under the Superfund law.

Industry officials argue that the Superfund law was intended to regulate industrial sites such as the Love Canal - or, in Oregon, the Willamette River's Portland Harbor - rather than agricultural operations. One industry press release notes that manure is "naturally occurring" and "not a Superfund material." It ominously warns that "everyone that uses the bathroom could be considered an open target for million-dollar lawsuits."

That's silly and manipulative. The Superfund law doesn't target manure production; in fact, it contains a provision exempting normal applications of fertilizer. However, the law does - and should - cover massive dumping of animal wastes that leads to the buildup of contaminants that meet the Superfund criteria of hazardous substances.

It's also misleading to suggest than manure should be exempted because it occurs naturally. Using that same reasoning, the EPA also should stop listing mercury and arsenic as hazardous substances.

Finally, the industry argues that CAFO pollution already is regulated under other federal regulations and environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act. But most of those don't satisfactorily address CAFO pollution, are inadequately enforced or, as is the case with Clean Water Act, may soon be weakened by Bush administration rule changes.

Congress should dump the proposed Superfund exemption bill in the nearest waste lagoon. If anything, lawmakers should consider ways to strengthen existing laws to make certain CAFOs are held fully responsible for excessive dumping of animal wastes.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Farm factories seek Superfund exemption
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 4, 2006
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