EPA agrees to hunt for livestock operations that may be violating clean water rules

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, May 27 – The Environmental Protection Agency will launch a regulatory initiative to identify and investigate thousands of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that have been avoiding government regulation for animal waste pollution, according to a settlement reached on a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

“Thousands of factory farm polluters threaten America’s water with animal waste, bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make people sick,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney Jon Devine. “Many of these massive facilities are flying completely under the radar; EPA doesn’t even know where they are. Our lawsuit and today’s settlement rejects industry’s self-policing practices and requires EPA to start gathering the missing information it needs to clean up our waterways and protect public health.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the lawsuit over a rule that effectively exempted thousands of CAFOs from taking steps to minimize water pollution from the animal waste they generate. More than 30 years ago, Congress identified factory farms as water pollution sources to be regulated under the Clean Water Act's permit program. But under this rule, NRDC says massive facilities were able to escape government regulation by claiming -- without government verification -- that they do not discharge into waterways protected by the Clean Water Act.

Under the settlement agreement, EPA will initiate a new national effort to track down CAFOs operating without permits and determine if they must be regulated. The specific information that EPA will ultimately require from individual facilities will be determined after a period of public comment. But the results of that investigation will enable the agency and the public to create stronger pollution controls in the future and make sure facilities are complying with current rules.

As explained to Agri-Pulse by EPA, “EPA signed a settlement agreement with environmental petitioners on May 25, 2010 regarding litigation challenging the Agency’s 2008 CAFO rule. EPA is committed to protecting public health and the environment and advancing the agency’s goals to protect America’s waters. Under this agreement, the Agency will develop a guidance document to clarify the 2008 CAFO rule regarding when CAFOs ‘discharge or propose to discharge’ and therefore clarifying when the CAFO needs to apply for a permit. As part of the agreement, EPA will also propose a rule to collect information from CAFOs and will take final action on the proposed rule within two years of the settlement agreement. EPA will seek public comment as part of the rulemaking process.”

To read the 8-page “National Pork Producers Council v. EPA” settlement agreement, go to: www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/NPPC_v_EPA_Settle.pdf

To read reaction from the National Pork Producers Council, go to: www.agri-pulse.com/20100527S2_NPPC_v_EPA.asp

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