CRITICS SAY IT WOULD THREATEN COMMUNITIES *By John Heilprin* *ASSOCIATED PRESS*
*WASHINGTON - *Environmentalists say they are alarmed by an agriculture industry proposal to give factory-style farms a two-year break from air-quality and toxic waste-cleanup laws if they take part in a planned $11 million research program.
Environmental Protection Agency officials said yesterday the negotiations with industry are meant only to address concerns raised by the National Academy of Sciences last year about the difficulty of measuring emissions from animal-feeding operations.
The academy's report faulted EPA's system for measuring emissions from manure of pigs, beef and dairy cattle, and poultry, and said the lack of certainty makes it hard for government regulators to do their jobs.
The Sierra Club circulated a statement Monday saying the Bush administration was holding closed-door meetings with livestock and poultry industry officials to exempt them from government lawsuits and clean-air laws. Stench and waste from corporate farms have increasingly become issues as they have irritated neighboring communities.
"Exempting animal factories from basic environmental laws like the Clean Air Act would quite simply put thousands of communities at risk," said Brent Newell, a Sierra Club attorney.
The club also released a copy of a nearly year-old confidential memo to EPA officials from Washington-based agriculture lobbyist John Thorne proposing two years of industry-paid research -- at an estimated $11 million -- into the science behind air-emissions monitoring.
During that time, Thorne said, EPA could provide immunity or "safe harbor protection" from government lawsuits to the several thousand farms expected to participate.
J.P. Suarez, EPA's enforcement chief, said that under the deal, EPA would not sue participants during the two years of research, but any agreement would require animal-feeding operations to eventually comply with clean-air and Superfund laws.
"We would gather data, and at the end of the day we would evaluate which farms would be subject to the Clean Air Act," Suarez said.