Court rules in favor of West Virginia poultry farmer in EPA discharge suit

WASHINGTON — A federal court ruled Oct. 23 in favor of West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt in a lawsuit she brought against the Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled that, contrary to EPA’s contention, ordinary stormwater from Alt’s farmyard is exempt from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements. (Read the court ruling; link opens .pdf.)

Threatened with fines

Alt filed suit against EPA in June 2012 after the agency threatened her with $37,500 in fines each time stormwater came into contact with dust, feathers or manure on the ground outside of her Hardy County poultry houses as a result of normal farm operations.

EPA also threatened separate fines of $37,500 per day if Alt failed to apply for a NPDES permit for such stormwater discharges.

AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau intervened with Alt as co-plaintiffs. For the defendant EPA, Potomac Riverkeeper, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch, filed as intervenors.

“We are pleased the court flatly rejected EPA’s arguments and ruled in favor of Lois Alt,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The outcome of this case will benefit thousands of livestock and poultry farmers who run their operations responsibly and who should not have to get a federal permit for ordinary rainwater from their farmyards.”

Is agriculture exempt?

In ordering Alt to seek a permit, EPA took the legal position that the Clean Water Act’s exemption for “agricultural storm water discharges” does not apply to farms classified as “concentrated animal feeding operations” or “CAFOs,” except for areas where crops are grown.

In other words, any areas at a CAFO farm where crops are not grown, and where particles of manure are present, would require a permit for rainwater runoff.

In April of this year, the federal court rejected efforts by EPA to avoid defending its position by withdrawing the order against Alt.

In opposing EPA’s motion to dismiss, Alt and Farm Bureau argued that farmers remained vulnerable to similar EPA orders, and the important legal issue at stake should be resolved. The court agreed.

“This lawsuit was about EPA’s tactic of threatening farmers with enormous fines in order to make them get permits that are not required by law,” said Stallman. “Lois Alt was proud of her farm and her environmental stewardship, and she stood her ground.”

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