EPA appeals W.Va. farm lawsuit

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WASHINGTON — In December, the Environmental Protection Agency and the environmental intervenors filed an appeal of Lois Alt’s win against EPA.

The issue of Clean Water Act regulation of farmyard rainwater will now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit.

Background

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled in October 2013 that, contrary to EPA’s contention, rainwater from Alt’s farmyard is exempt from federal Clean Water Act regulation.

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 small amounts of manure on the ground outside of her 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 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for such runoff.

Farm Bureau intervenes

AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau intervened alongside Alt as co-plaintiffs to help resolve the issue for the benefit of other poultry and livestock farmers.

“We’re looking forward to helping Mrs. Alt defend her win in the Fourth Circuit,” said Ellen Steen, American Farm Bureau Federation general counsel. “The outcome of this case goes well beyond one family farm in West Virginia. The issue of whether ordinary rainwater runoff from a farmyard violates federal law, just because you happen to raise animals, has obvious importance to thousands of livestock and poultry farmers nationwide.”

Permit

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 would require a permit for ordinary rainwater runoff. The district court in the Alt case was the first federal court to decide the question.

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