WASHINGTON — In a surprise about-face, the Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn an order demanding that West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt obtain a Clean Water Act discharge permit for stormwater runoff from her farmyard or face up to $37,500 per day in penalties.
While the action is a victory for Alt, it leaves unresolved a major legal issue with serious implications for other livestock and poultry farmers that must be addressed, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
EPA’s withdrawal of the order Dec. 20 comes six months after Alt filed her legal action and six weeks before Alt and AFBF are scheduled to file briefs challenging EPA’s interpretation of the law.
In withdrawing its order, EPA cited new management practices identified during a May 2012 re-inspection of the farm. However, EPA’s inspection report also states that dust, feathers and small amounts of manure were still observed on the ground at the farm — which was the same basis of EPA’s original order, according to AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled in October that AFBF and West Virginia Farm Bureau have the right to join Alt’s lawsuit.
Others not in the clear
“EPA still has not backed away from its position that any amount of pollutant on the ground at a livestock or poultry farm requires a Clean Water Act permit,” Steen said.
“The more likely reason for EPA’s withdrawal is that it does not want to defend its position in court.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said EPA’s withdrawal of the Alt order without correcting its legal position still leaves other farmers and ranchers hanging in uncertainty, “vulnerable to the same threats that Ms. Alt faced.”
EPA’s November 2011 order threatened Alt with $37,500 in fines for 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 poultry farming operations. EPA also threatened separate fines of $37,500 per day if Alt failed to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
Alt responded by filing her own legal challenge to the EPA order in June 2012.