The Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana is joining seven other groups in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It wants the agency to do away with a 2016 rule that exempts medium-sized confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from undergoing an environmental review before getting a federal loan.
Most farms that have a lot of animals in a confined space are called CAFOs by the federal government. But Indiana uses different terms. In this state, a medium-size CAFO would actually be called a CFO or simply a confined feeding operation.
Since the 2016 exemption went into effect, the plaintiffs say more than 100 federal loans have been granted to CFOs in Indiana without looking into how they would affect people’s health or the environment.
Margo Tucker is the assistant director of the Citizens Action Coalition’s Downstream Project, which advocates for better environmental regulation of confined feeding operations. She says just a few weeks ago, she heard from a family farm in Carroll County that was having problems with a CFO next door.
“They were getting dead animal parts and manure flowing onto their property and nothing was being done about it,” she says.
Tucker says without these reviews, the public gets less notice about CFOs moving into their towns and therefore less of a say. In fact, Tucker says, the USDA has used a lack of public input to justify approving loans to medium-sized CAFOs.
“Of course the public isn’t going to have a very strong opinion about a CAFO that they haven’t been informed about,” Tucker says.
Tucker says environmental reviews also help local planning and zoning boards that approve permits for these farms to make more informed decisions.
When asked why the plaintiffs waited until now to file their suit, the Animal Legal Defense Fund says they were waiting see what effect the rule would have on their communities. They were also awaiting documents from public records requests, which can take several months.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.