Large factory-style chicken, hog and cattle farms might soon have to get permits from the Environment Protection Agency when animal waste from their operations finds its way into local rivers, streams and lakes.
The agency proposed the new requirement Thursday, but it said it will leave up to farmers to define what constitutes pollution, and that if it’s only stormwater, never mind.
A federal appeals court had ordered EPA to also consider issuing new standards for controlling disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites in farm runoff. The agency opted not to adopt any.
“Basically, EPA has chickened out, they’ve been pressured by the farm lobby,” said Melanie Shepherdson, a staff attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. “They’re letting the factory farms police themselves, which flies in the face of the whole purpose of the Clean Water Act permitting process.”
Some of the large-scale farming operators say EPA’s proposed rules will help them.
“Pork producers can decide for themselves if they will need a federal Clean Water Act permit as they meet these standards, or if they want to meet these standards while not getting a federal permit,” said Randy Spronk, a producer from Edgerton, Minn., and chairman of the National Pork Producer Council’s environment committee. “Either way, we can have an effective regulatory program.”
EPA’s proposal is a revision of rules from three years ago. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled last year that those regulations weren’t adequately protecting the nation’s waters from farm animal manure.
In response to a lawsuit brought by a New York-based environmental group, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club and the NRDC, the court said the 2003 rules failed to result in any meaningful review of plans developed by the farms to limit the pollution.
At issue are about 18,800 concentrated animal-feeding operations, which contribute up to 60 percent of all the manure generated by farms that confine animals, according to EPA. Those farms generate 500 million tons of manure annually.