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Court Dismisses Case Aimed at Forcing EPA Regulation of Animal Feedlots

A recent federal district court decision has stymied efforts to expand federal regulation of concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

On June 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by four Iowa citizens who were concerned about the effect of air emissions from a hog CAFO located near a school. Zook v. McCarthy, Civil Action No. 2013-1315 (D.C. 2014).

The suit sought to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate CAFOs as “stationary sources” under the CAA for hydrogen and ammonia. Establishing CAFOs as stationary sources would have required the EPA to establish new source performance standards for animal feedlots and the EPA would also be required to establish national ambient air quality standards for both ammonia and hydrogen.

The district court dismissed the action, finding that a court order granting the requested relief would “improperly usurp” EPA’s exclusive authority to make an “endangerment determination.” Such a determination by the agency is necessary to trigger federal regulation of CAFOs as stationary sources under the CAA. In other words, the court found that it could not order the EPA to regulate CAFO’s under the CAA. Rather, the decision to regulate is left to the agency’s discretion. This is good news for farmers who have seen an increase in citizens’ suits designed to use litigation as a means to expand regulation and bypass the legislative process.

Nonetheless, the plaintiffs could petition the EPA to commence a rulemaking procedure to regulate CAFO air emissions.  It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will appeal the ruling.

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