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There is an Urgent Need for CAFO Legislation – and Illinois Can Lead the Way

Climate change is currently raging, with no evidence of slowing down.[1] Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”) are of particular concern, as they emit large amounts of greenhouse gases due to their concentrated nature.[2] Methane emissions from CAFOs must be properly monitored and regulated to have a chance at slowing down climate change. Livestock and manure emissions, when combined, make the agriculture sector the largest source of methane emissions in the United States.[3] This is clearly an issue; while carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emitted by humans, the “comparative impact of [methane] is twenty-five times greater than [carbon dioxide] over a 100-year period.”[4] Even so, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) allows CAFO air emissions to go unmonitored and therefore unregulated.[5]

In 2006, the EPA exempted CAFOs from complying with the Clean Air Act, the nation’s leading air pollution quality law, and instead allowed CAFOs the opportunity to enter into the Air Compliance Agreement, a national air monitoring study.[6] The EPA stated it would use the results of this study to determine the best way to measure CAFO air emissions and was set to enact emission controls by 2010.[7] As of 2022, EPA states it is still developing draft emission models and continues to allow AFO air emissions to go unmonitored.[8]

As part of its support for the Air Compliance Agreement, the EPA reasoned that “many of the negative impacts resulting from AFOs, such as odor, are not currently regulated under Federal laws, but are addressed by State and local laws.”[9] Yet, it is nearly impossible to determine how many CAFOs exist within the United States, let alone what the regulatory scheme looks like.[10] No federal agency collects and maintains any comprehensive data about CAFO size, location, and operations necessary to implement effective environmental regulation.[11] In an attempt to bridge this information gap, the non-profit organization Natural Resource Defense Council (“NRDC”)  conducted an independent study to try and determine what the CAFO scheme looks like in the United States.[12] Tennessee and Maryland were the only states that had a fairly complete data set.[13] “No other state had data available on permit status, location, method of storing manure, size, animal type, and ownership of more than [five] percent of EPA-estimated operations.”[14] A state cannot begin to regulate air emissions without knowing exactly what needs to be regulated and where pollution is coming from.

If a state cannot regulate CAFO air emissions within its own borders, it is no surprise that CAFO air regulation is nonexistent at a national level. How can these operations be federally monitored if states do not even know how many CAFOs there are and how much air pollution they are emitting? According to the NRDC, Illinois ranked “Low” on all evaluated categories, including transparency of permit status, location, and manure storage.[15] If information as simple as a CAFO’s location is undisclosed, how can any meaningful regulation be passed? An essential first step in creating transparency regarding the CAFO scheme in Illinois is to create some kind of Task Force whose charge would be to accurately determine the number of CAFOs operating in Illinois. This would entail an agricultural survey of all farms in Illinois. Once Illinois knows how many CAFOs are operating within its borders, Illinois can begin to determine the best way to accurately monitor and regulate methane emissions and other greenhouse gases coming from these operations. This survey would merely be a starting point to compile data on CAFOs in Illinois and push the Federal Government to survey at the national level.

CAFOs and factory farming are not just a problem in the United States. Just as in the United States, factory farming and meat consumption are increasing in the European Union (“EU”), with the EU being “one of the world’s largest consumers of meat, with a consumption of 71.3 kg per capita in 2018, more than twice the global average.”[16] Asia is similarly seeing a rapid growth in factory farming, where meat demand is expected to grow to 144 million tons by 2025.[17]

In the wake of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP26”), protestors marched in Glasgow to demand more action on the climate crisis.[18] COP26 placed a special emphasis on methane emissions, where President Biden and the European Union pledged to “limit methane emissions by [thirty percent] compared with 2020 levels.”[19]  However, the focus of this rule was on oil and gas infrastructure, with no mention of the agricultural industry.[20] Illinois leadership has the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of legislation with potentially international implications. CAFO air pollution has gone unregulated for far too long, but Illinois can take the first step toward regulating this overlooked sector of greenhouse gas emissions.

[1] Rebecca Hersher, Earth Is Barreling Toward 1.5 Degrees Celsius Of Warming, Scientists Warn, NPR (May 26, 2021),

[2] Austen DiPalma, Why Are CAFOs Bad for the Environment, Action for the Climate Emergency (Aug. 6, 2021), [].

[3] Overview of Greenhouse Gases, U.S. Env’t Prot. Agency, [] (last visited Dec. 16, 2021).

[4] Id.

[5] Animal Feeding Operations Consent Agreement and Final Order, 70 Fed. Reg. 40016 (July 12, 2005).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] National Air Emissions Monitoring Study, U.S. Env’t Prot. Agency, [] (last visited Feb. 24, 2022).

[9] Animal Feeding Operations Consent Agreement and Final Order, 70 Fed. Reg. 4957 (Jan. 31, 2005).

[10] D. Lee Miller, CAFOs: What We Don’t Know Is Hurting Us, Nat. Res. Def. Council (Sept. 2019), [].

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] The urgent case to stop factory farms in Europe, Food & Water Action Europe, [] (last visited Dec. 16, 2021).

[17] Rina Chandran, Factory farming in Asia poses environmental, forced-labour risks: report, Reuters (Aug. 16, 2017), [].

[18] COP26: Thousands march for Glasgow's biggest protest, BBC (Nov. 6, 2021) [].

[19] COP26: US and EU announce global pledge to slash methane, BBC (Nov. 2, 2021) [].

[20] Jean Chemnick, EPA plans ‘even more ambitious’ methane rule, E&E News (Nov. 11, 2021). [].