Challenging CEQ’s CAFO Exemptions Under NEPA

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for new regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will shield CAFOs and slaughterhouses from environmental review.


March 13, 2023

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The case is stayed to allow the current administration to review

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On September 23, 2020, a coalition of rural advocacy, environmental, and animal protection organizations, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for new regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will shield Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and slaughterhouses — factory farms that house over thousands and even millions of animals in one location — from environmental review and limit the ability of the public to know about and challenge the harms caused by these facilities.

NEPA regulations dictate how and when federal agencies must conduct environmental reviews of their decisions and actions. Previously, federal agencies were required to assess the environmental impact of all federal funding for CAFOs and slaughterhouses before the funding was approved, but the new rule removes environmental regulation of the CAFO industry. Without environmental regulations and transparency provided by NEPA, communities that will be most impacted by CAFOs and slaughterhouses may not be aware that the construction of new facilities or expansion of existing operations are being undertaken with public funds.

CEQ’s new rule specifically exempts Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) and Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loan guarantees to CAFOs from NEPA review entirely, leaving federal agencies with the ability to guarantee loans for CAFOs that are unable to receive financing anywhere else without having to conduct any environmental review first.

The coalition includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Association of Irritated Residents.

Who is being sued, why, and under what law? Council on Environmental Quality, for a new rule exempting federal funding of CAFOs and slaughterhouses from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. CEQ’s new rule violates both NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act.

What court is the lawsuit filed in? United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Why this case is important: CAFOs generate massive amounts of waste, contaminating air, drinking water, and surface waters, impacting the health of both people and animals. Due to the threats these facilities — and the slaughterhouses they supply — pose to the environment and public health, NEPA requires federal agencies like the Farm Service Agency to conduct environmental reviews before granting loans for CAFOs.

Exempting federal funding of the CAFO industry from NEPA review protects the industry from scrutiny and undercuts the public’s ability to seek recourse when the government provides public money to these facilities without considering their effects on local communities and the environment.

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