I’ve never met Lois Alt, but I like her gumption. And if you have anything to do with livestock farming, you should be a fan, too.
For the past two and a half years, Alt, whose farm is called Eight is Enough, has gone toe-to-toe, and attorney to attorney, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Alt farm is in Hardy County, in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. At the time of the original complaint, the farm had eight ventilated poultry confinement houses where they raised broilers under contract, a litter storage shed, a compost shed and feed storage bins — all under roof.
It’s long and it’s complicated, but basically following a June 2011 inspection, the EPA tried to cite and fine Alt as a point-source polluter under the Clean Water Act. “Dust from the ventilation exhaust fans settles on the ground,” the report reads. “Dust includes feathers and fine particulates of dander and manure which would therefore contain pollutants. Manure and other pollutants would come into contact with precipitation during rain events” and cross 200 yards of pasture and pollute Mudlick Run.
Unless the farm secured a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, it would be fined $37,500 per day, the November 2011 citation declared.
Not so fast, Alt replied, the EPA is overstepping its authority because my farm should be covered under the Clean Water Act agricultural stormwater exemption, so she sued the EPA.
The EPA argued any precipitation that mixed with the fan-blown dust or manure constituted a “discharge,” and Alt needed that NPDES permit.
The West Virginia and American Farm Bureau Federations both joined Alt’s case, because of the national implications, particularly EPA’s “authority” to issue the violation order. Siding with the EPA were five environmental groups, which filed as intervenors.
Along the way, the EPA said it would withdraw its order requiring Alt to get a permit, and then asked the court to dismiss the case. Some smart folks in our court system said, nope, just because you withdraw this order doesn’t mean you’ve changed your position on the overall situation, and this could happen to someone else all over again.
In its Oct. 23 ruling, a U.S. District Court finally called off the Feds and ruled that “litter and manure which is washed from the Alt farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge and therefore not a point source discharge, thereby rendering it exempt from the NPDES permit requirement of the Clean Water Act.”
The court ruling is a [surprisingly] easy and thorough read of the legal history of this pesky issue of agriculture’s exemption to the stormwater permit.
Before anyone argues that this gives farms a green light to wantonly pollute, it does not. Trust me, if you pollute by intentional negligence or illegal activity, you’re not protected. Incidentally, the Alt farm had previously been honored for its environmental stewardship practices by Pilgrim’s Pride, for which the Alts are growers.
“Lois Alt was proud of her farm and her environmental stewardship, and she stood her ground.” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, in a news release after the ruling.
We applaud her grit and we should all send her a note of gratitude. It could’ve been your farm.
By Susan Crowell