Farm manure rule stinks, court finds

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal appeals court has ruled that new federal clean-water regulations aren’t protecting the nation’s waters from the manure pollution of large farms.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Monday it agreed with environmentalists who claimed in lawsuits that the rules failed to provide meaningful review of plans developed by the farms to limit the pollution.

The appeals court said the rules imposed in February 2003 by the Environmental Protection Agency were arbitrary and capricious and did “nothing to ensure” that each large farm was complying with requirements to control the pollution.

Its ruling requires the EPA to make changes so it can ensure compliance by the farms with the Clean Water Act, which includes “the ambitious goal” that water pollution be eliminated. It also said the agency must provide a process that “adequately involves the public” as it creates a new system.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international grass-roots organization connecting 129 local water protection programs, said he was grateful that the court had rebuked “the government and the barons of corporate agriculture.”

A telephone message for comment left with the EPA in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned Monday.

The appeals court noted that large farms can generate each year millions of tons of manure, which carries potentially harmful pollutants including pesticides, bacteria, viruses, trace elements of arsenic and compounds such as methane and ammonia.

When properly applied, manure can be spread on fields and serve as fertilizer. But improperly applied, the court said, it can pollute.

The EPA rules require large confinements — defined as having at least 1,000 beef cattle and 2,500 swine — to obtain water pollution permits every five years. Some medium ones — with 300 beef cattle and 3,000 swine under 55 pounds — may be required to get one. Different head count thresholds are set for livestock operations including sheep, chicken and turkeys.

Any farm required to have a permit also must have a plan spelling out how it will manage manure. Farmers are required to file annual reports summarizing their operations.

Forty-five states manage the program themselves while activities in Alaska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Mexico and in the District of Columbia are managed by the EPA.

The Waterkeeper Alliance was among several groups that challenged the rules with lawsuits, which were consolidated in a single action in New York. Other groups included the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Farm Bureau Federation, the National Turkey Federation, the National Pork Producers Council and livestock groups.