COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lengthy process of transferring the state’s livestock permitting program from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, became closer to completion this week.
On Tuesday, Dec. 22, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed House Bill 363, which authorizes the ODA to adopt rules under the Concentrated Animal Feeding Facilities Law, to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.
Created by the Clean Water Act, the Discharge Elimination program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the nation’s waters.
The transfer of powers has been under way since at least 2000. ODA has managed the Livestock Environmental Permitting Program since 2002. Under this program, the Department regulates how Ohio’s largest livestock and poultry farms handle manure and waste water, as well as management of flies, rodents and other pests.
House Bill 363 was sponsored by State Rep. Mark D. Okey, D-Carrollton, and Rep. Deborah Newcomb, D-Conneaut. It also includes provisions that prohibit the ownership, as well as the operation of, a concentrated animal feeding facility without a permit to operate in Ohio.
Chris Henney, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of Legislative Affairs testified before Ohio lawmakers that ODA is the sensible choice to govern Concentrated Animal Feeding Facilities.
“Because of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s pervasive knowledge of agriculture, members of Ohio’s General Assembly and the administration felt it ultimately made sense to shift responsibility for environmental oversight to CAFOs and animal feeding operations to the Department of Agriculture from Ohio EPA,” he said in a released statement.
“The Department (of Agriculture) has operated the state permitting program in an effective and knowledgeable manner,” Henney said. “That was the main goal of this effort since the beginning. We are confident that the Department of Agriculture can and will operate the NPDES program in a similar manner,” Henney said.
But certain activist organizations and environmentalist groups question the decision. In a recent editorial, Teri Reinhart, chairperson for Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance calls it a “dangerous legislative proposal” being “fast-tracked in the General Assembly” to remove oversight of “industrial-scale livestock operations in Ohio.”
The Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club said the “Ohio Department of Agriculture is not in the business of protecting Ohio’s environment,” further criticizing ODA for what it calls a “weak enforcement record.”