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Lawsuit challenges rule easing environmental reviews for animal confinements

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A dozen grassroots organizations have challenged a USDA rule change that would make medium-sized animal confinements exempt from environmental review before receiving government-backed loans from the Farm Services Agency (FSA).

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on December 5, states that the rule change makes it harder for communities to protect themselves from environmental threats by animal production operations. The organizations say the FSA didn’t follow the proper procedures when it made the rule change in late 2016.

The Farm Services Agency could not be reached for comment.

The filing states these checks not only protect nearby communities from potential health and environmental risks, they also serve to alert the community of new or expanding animal feeding operations, allowing them to weigh in on the benefits or harms to the area.

The new rule gives “medium-sized” Controlled Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) “categorical exclusions”, meaning they no longer have to undergo an environmental review mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act in order to receive loans through the FSA. Medium CAFOs can have up to 699 dairy cows, 999 cattle, 2,499 pigs, 54,999 turkeys, and 124,999 chickens.

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