Despite Pruitt’s Cleanup Claims, Factory Chicken Farms Still Threaten Okla. Water

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

WASHINGTON – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, claims he made great progress in protecting the state’s water from pollution by factory chicken farms. But EWG’s new aerial analysis of a sensitive watershed in his home state shows that the number of industrial poultry farms has increased, putting the water at even greater risk of contamination.

The pollution of northeastern Oklahoma’s Illinois River – threatened by hundreds of thousands of tons of manure from millions of chickens raised in factory farms – has been a flashpoint during Pruitt’s confirmation.

In 2002, when Pruitt was a state senator, legislation was introduced to restrict new or expanded poultry operations within 1.5 miles of a state scenic river or outstanding resource water. The Illinois River carries both designations. The proposed bill would have also prohibited spreading chicken manure on land within buffer zones. Pruitt ultimately co-sponsored a version of the legislation only after it was significantly weakened. The Pruitt-backed bill:

  • No longer prohibited spreading chicken manure on land in buffer zones, but instead merely required chicken farms to have a plan for managing the waste.
  • Reduced buffer zones around protected rivers and waters to one mile.
  • Most significantly, only limited new or expanded poultry operations from out-of-state corporations – a gaping loophole because feeding operations usually aren’t built by corporations, but by local farmers who sell their birds to companies such as Tyson Foods through contracts.

Instead of mitigating the threats big chicken farms pose for the Illinois River and surrounding communities, under the Pruitt-backed law, the chicken industry has increased its operations in the watershed.

Using aerial photos from Google and the Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Imagery Program, EWG analysts found 14 new or expanded factory chicken farms established within a mile of a scenic river or outstanding resource water. Between 2003 and 2016, a timespan which includes Pruitt’s six years as attorney general, the new and expanded operations created a net increase of 33 new poultry barns.  

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Pruitt cited cleaning up the Illinois River as one of his crowning environmental achievements as attorney general.

In his testimony before the committee, Pruitt sought to characterize a 2013 agreement as a historic effort to clean up the river. But the agreement developed by Pruitt and his Arkansas counterpart actually gave polluters more time to meet cleanup goals and suspended any enforcement action by the attorney general’s office.

“Scott Pruitt’s claim of contributing to environmental protection in Oklahoma is a sham,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG legislative attorney. “With his nonexistent record of environmental enforcement against polluters in his own state added to his eagerness to destroy federal initiatives to reduce Americans’ exposure to dangerous – even life-threatening – pollution, he is exceptionally unqualified to lead the EPA.”

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