Guest Commentary: It's time for IEPA to stop making excuses

Guest Commentary: It's time for IEPA to stop making excuses

By KAREN HUDSON

The Illinois EPA (IEPA) appears to be fraternizing with livestock industry advocates more than the public it is supposed to protect. At a recent Illinois Farm Bureau event, the IEPA director vocally opposed sensible new legislation that would strengthen Illinois' weak livestock law.

Ironically, factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have been identified by regulators as one of the biggest contributors to water pollution in Illinois and a Chicago Tribune investigation found them to be the leading cause of fish kills.

Illinois farmers and residents have joined together in support of SB1272 and SB1273, which require an accurate CAFO registration program and accountability and transparency in how they manage their waste. These bills wouldn't even impose requirements as stringent as in livestock-friendly neighboring states like Iowa and Wisconsin.

However, IEPA Director Alec Messina vows to "collaborate" with farm bureau and industry groups and stresses that no changes to the law are needed. He philosophizes that it would be more effective to "educate the livestock producers being regulated."

While this may sound like a noble position, we question who and how the director intends to "educate." Our research shows IEPA's "comprehensive" inventory of the location and numbers of CAFOs has an embarrassing accuracy of 44 percent. How could IEPA educate producers when they don't even know how many CAFOs exist?

In 2011, the U.S. EPA released an investigation responding to the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water delegation petition. The pending petition may ultimately lead to IEPA losing its authority to administer its federal Clean Water Act program due to IEPA's failures and unfulfilled commitments to the federal government to fix its broken CAFO program. Do we need "producer education" in this instance?

Beyond this, Messina's idea to "educate the regulated" is like teaching drivers the importance of rules of the road, but failing to monitor and enforce traffic violations.

For decades, Illinoisans have been documenting CAFO pollution. They are fed up with the industry's excuses and now these disturbing excuses by the IEPA — the very agency that is charged with protecting health and environment.

IEPA needs to get out of the bed it is sharing with the farm bureau and industry groups and focus on the affected citizens who are suffering from dirty politicking and pollution. Support SB 1272 and 1273 for the farmers and citizens of Illinois.

Visit http://www.iccaw.org to learn more and send a message to your legislators.

Karen Hudson, a farmer in Peoria County, is co-founder of Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and a regional associate for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

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