The U.S. pork industry scored a major victory Nov. 29 when a federal appeals court denied a request for a rehearing of a landmark environmental case. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) applauded the ruling, which upholds the validity of air emissions agreements between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and livestock and poultry operations.

The agreements, which were signed by nearly 2,600 animal feeding operations, including 1,856 hog operations, protect animal feeding operations from EPA enforcement actions for past air emission violations, and violations while EPA conducts a monitoring study of emissions from farms.

The full 10-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the latest legal challenge from the California-based Association of Irritated Residents and other citizen advocacy groups. A three-judge panel of the same court in July dismissed the activists’ petition for review of the agreements “because exercises of EPA’s enforcement discretion are not reviewable by this court.”

The activist groups had argued that the agreements were rules disguised as enforcement actions and that EPA didn’t follow proper rulemaking procedures. The groups wanted animal feeding operations to comply more quickly with federal air emission standards, but the court disagreed.

Under the agreements, researchers from eight universities are monitoring air emissions from 24 sites in nine states. When the 30-month study is complete, EPA will write air emission standards for animal feeding operations.

“We applaud this ruling,” states Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Edgerton, MN, and chairman of NPPC’s Environmental Policy Committee. “EPA and farmers simply didn’t have the science to know whether air laws were being triggered, and a one-size-fits-all approach to environmental enforcement was not fair or effective.

“Now, because of quality scientific research and EPA’s willingness to work with America’s farmers, we have a chance to see what’s really happening, and the results will help all parties make improvements where they’re truly needed,” he says.