Does Manure Make a Farm a Superfund Site?
|Thursday, June 01, 2006
By Steven Milloy
Environmental activists are teaming up with state attorneys general and
trial lawyers to bankrupt the nation’s livestock farmers – in the name of
saving the environment.
If the situation wasn’t so serious, it would be hilarious.
The activists – including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra
Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists – are trying to convince Congress
that the nation’s farms should be treated as industrial waste sites and
therefore subject to severe penalties under the federal Superfund law. Some
state attorneys general, supported by trial lawyers, have filed lawsuits
toward the same end.
Why? Because, they argue, animal manure is a hazardous substance.
They are now demanding that Congress refuse to clarify that the Superfund
law was never intended to apply to natural animal waste. They are claiming –
falsely – that without Superfund, animal waste would be unregulated.
The fact is that manure already is heavily regulated under the Clean Water
Act, Clean Air Act and other federal and state regulations. They are
claiming – falsely – that small family farms won’t be affected. The reality
is that under Superfund, huge penalties can be levied against small
operations and even individuals. Tens of thousands of small family farmers
could be affected.
Congress never intended the Superfund law to apply to the nation’s farms –
it was designed to clean up industrial waste sites like Love Canal. But
because it did not specifically exempt animal waste, activists are now
seizing on this lack of clarity to haul farmers before the courts and apply
the draconian penalties permissible under Superfund.
If the activists are successful, farmers could face penalties of many
millions of dollars and thousands of small farmers could be forced off their
“The domestic livestock industry would be driven from this country, the
grain industry would be crippled, and farm families and communities would be
devastated,” Oklahoma Farm Bureau chief Steve Kouplen warned Congress last
“If animal manure is found to be a hazardous substance under Superfund, then
virtually every farm or ranch in the United States could be written off as a
toxic Superfund site,” says Missouri cattleman Mike John, who is also
president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The activists’ efforts are a deliberate distortion of the law, devised by
some local authorities and a small army of trial lawyers seeking large
settlements in which they – and the activist groups – would be the chief
“It’s simply a shake-down,” one dairy farmer told Congress.
“It would be a mockery of congressional intent,” commented Bob Stallman,
head of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He notes that farms and ranches
that raise livestock are already among the most regulated business sectors
for environmental quality, subject to extensive federal and state laws and
Farmers are by their nature pro-environment. Healthy crops and livestock
depend on a healthy environment. None of this apparently matters to the
activists, who may also see manure as a means to gain political sway over
Given that federal and state environmental regulators are often sympathetic
to, if not in outright league with, environmental activists, and that the
Superfund law provides regulators with much discretion as to how to identify
and manage sites to be cleaned up, treating farms as Superfund sites would
essentially provide activists a powerful political weapon to be used against
farmers at the activists’ discretion. Farmers who don’t toe the
environmentalist line may find their farms declared as Superfund sites.
Congress inadvertently caused this problem in the first place by not
exempting animal manure from the original Superfund law. But who could
imagine that such an exemption would be necessary?
The good news is that Congress can quickly solve the problem by passing a
simple amendment to the Superfund law, clarifying that farm manure is not
considered a hazardous substance under the Act. A bipartisan bill to this
effect has already been introduced in the House with nearly 160 co-sponsors.
A companion bill with bipartisan support is about to be introduced in the
Congress needs to get this done soon for the sake of this country’s farmers,
consumers – who would face escalating food prices and shortages – and just
plain common sense. Cattleman Mike John says, “It’s just plain insulting to
suggest naturally occurring manure on our family farm deems us a Superfund
Manure, it seems, is the appropriate word for this latest activist
Steven Milloy publishes
. He is a junk science expert, an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct
scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.