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In California, Agriculture Takes Center Stage in Pollution Debate

"What the agency is trying to do is figure out the best way to get the most information, in a comprehensive way, in the most expeditious manner to determine if a problem may exist," said Jon Scholl, counselor to the EPA administrator for agriculture policy.

David Townsend, Premium Standard's vice president for environmental affairs, and other industry officials praised the deal, saying, "You have to have some reasonable data to say where [the industry] needs to go."

Environmentalists, on the other hand, assailed the pact as an industry giveaway. Aloma Dew, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky who monitors poultry farms, said: "It's not just a stink that's coming out of these farms. It's a real health threat."

But the EPA's amnesty for major livestock producers may amount to a temporary reprieve as even farmers' most loyal political allies are sensing a shift in public sentiment. Calvin M. Dooley, a former central California farmer who served in the House for 14 years, said local attitudes hardened during his time in office, which ended this year.

"There's a different political environment in the Central Valley today," said Dooley, a Democrat who now heads the Food Products Association. "More and more people have become increasingly concerned about the health and environmental consequences of our air quality."

Staff writer David A. Fahrenthold and researcher Carmen Chapin contributed to this report.

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