EPA’s new CAFO rules headed to court in multiple lawsuits

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WASHINGTON – When the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents visited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency March 12 in Washington, the discussion centered on alphabet soup: TMDL, CAFO and FQPA.

The farm leaders spent a morning at the EPA in the Rachel Carson Great Room, a room named for the author of Silent Spring, the book credited with triggering the modern environmental movement.

CAFO challenges. But at the same time that the Ohio Farm Bureau leaders were at the EPA headquarters, their national counterparts were filing a lawsuit in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., challenging the EPA’s newest set of rules governing concentrated animals feeding operations, or CAFOs.

The American Farm Bureau joined ranks with the National Chicken Council, which filed a similar suit last week in the District of Columbia; the National Pork Producers Council, which took the issue to court in St. Louis; and the National Turkey Federation, which filed a complaint in Atlanta.

Environmental suits. Three environmental groups – the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Waterkeeper Alliance – also filed a lawsuit in San Francisco last week alleging the EPA’s new rules, announced Dec. 16, violate the Clean Water Act.

At issue. The environmental groups charge the new rule shields large-scale livestock farms from liability for damage caused by animal waste pollution.

The groups say allowing farms to develop the comprehensive nutrient management plans under the permit is like “asking high school kids to write their own tests.”

“They’ll make it too easy to comply and they won’t protect public health,” said Melanie Shepherdson, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Farm Bureau questioned EPA’s authority to require permits and said the rule expands the CAFO definition as a point source.

The farm group is also challenging the new rule’s inclusion of land application, separate from the immediate animal feeding site, in the EPA’s jurisdiction.

New rule. Under the new rule, which applies to about 15,500 farms, CAFOs are required to apply for a permit, submit an annual report and develop and follow a plan for handling manure and wastewater.

The rule also increases controls on land applications and increases public access to information through CAFO annual reports.

Currently, about 4,500 operations are covered by permits; another 11,000 farms will be required to apply by 2006.

No matter what size your livestock operation is, it may be designated a CAFO if a permitting authority finds that it is polluting surface waters.

The language includes small or medium livestock operations if they are a “significant” contributor of pollutants and have a “conveyance” (which can be manmade or natural) or stream running through the confinement area.

Jeff Lape, chief of the rural branch in the EPA’s office of water, briefly outlined the new CAFO regulations to the Ohio Farm Bureau volunteers.

“The bottom line what this is about,” said Jeff Lape, chief of the rural branch in the EPA’s office of water, “is helping livestock agriculture ensure that water is being adequately protected.”

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