LONDON, Ohio – With a parcel of uncertainties that feel like log jams to many producers waiting to find out what they will have to do, the job of writing regulations for the permitting of Ohio’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Facilities is almost done.
As of Sept. 19, 10 of the 15 areas for which the rule-making advisory committee of the Ohio Department of Agriculture needed to write new regulations were completed. Kevin Elder, director of the new Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, reported on the committee’s progress during the Farm Science Review.
The process is moving right along. Elder now estimates that the regulations will be ready only a month later than originally announced.
The committee met again Sept. 24, and with three meetings scheduled during October, the current timeline is to have the regulatory structure completed by November to take effect in February of 2002.
The 16-member advisory committee is composed of nominated representatives of the various interests with a stake in the process, including producer groups, local officials, wastewater and drinking water utilities, environmental organizations, and four representatives of the public who were nominated by the Licking County citizens group, the Ohio Farmers Union, the Ohio Livestock Coalition, and the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
At the charge of the governor, the group has worked to achieve consensus on each and every guideline included in the proposed regulations, Elder said.
Waiting for permits. There are a total of 130 feeding operations with 1,000 or more animal units around the state permitted under the former Ohio Environmental Protection Agency process. These operations will be inspected immediately in order to receive the new Department of Agriculture’s permit to operate.
There are also a number of operations that have been waiting to expand until the new process is ready before they apply for an initial review to receive a permit to install.
In the end, Elder said the total number of feeding operations that will come under the jurisdiction of the permitting program under current federal rules will be around 200.
Once a facility has been permitted, Elder said, it will then be inspected twice a year.
The regulations being written are based on best management practices taken from the Soil and Water Conservation District standards, from the Environmental Protection Agency requirements, and from best scientific evidence, Elder said.
Create minimums. The advisory committee has tried to determine what would be the minimum standard consistent with good conservation, environmental protection, and federal requirements.
But it is the expectation, Elder said, that with the required inspections, the new livestock environmental permitting program will encourage better management and better operations.
“We will not be planning for accidents and reaction when something happens,” Elder said, “but will be forcing action ahead of time in the interest of better management.”
The regulations cover all aspects of manure storage, handling, transportation, and land application for large animal feeding operations, as well as an operation’s plans and compliance for insect and rodent control.
In most cases, Elder said manure handling will be accomplished by land application, with plans in place designed to prevent any discharge of pollutants into state waters.
Discharge permits. He estimated that less than 10 percent of the operations will require federal pollutant discharge permits, although the program has applied to be the permitting authority for Ohio, authority now held by the Ohio Enviromental Protection Agency.
The environmental protection agency, Elder said, has never had the manpower to be able to enforce the federal discharge regulation requirements.
In determining appropriate land application rates, the committee reviewed literature on such factors as nitrogen volatility and denitrofication, and also the phosphorous application standards that have actually been part of the SWCD best management practices standards for some time.
With the tables that will be used to determine compliance certification under these standards, he said, it will no longer be possible for anyone to apply 600 pounds of nitrogen per acre and still be within legal limitations.
Prevent runoff. There will also be standards written requiring operations to measure the average water holding capacity of all land being used for land application to prevent over application and pollutant runoff.
Guidelines for determining required standards for insect and rodent control have been especially difficult to draft, Elder said.
Deciding how to determine when an operation has a problem and not in compliance, he said, “is not like counting parts per million.”
The uncertainties that face the state permitting program involve how the program will be affected by the federal process under way to revise the nationally mandated standards required under provisions of national clean water laws.
Elder said that while he agrees with the rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, there are some changes that will make the job of the Ohio permitting program much more difficult if put into effect.
Setback required. Changing the required setback from any water source for land application of manure from 33 feet to 100 feet, he said, would make land application impossible in some places in Ohio. In some areas there isn’t 100 feet available.
“And how would anyone be able to fertilize that 100 feet on cropland? It’s much more important to have application limits and to prevent overapplication.”
Most important, however, is the proposed lowering of the number of animal units that constitute a concentrated animal feeding operation that must comply with federal standards, he said.
Under the current definition of 1,000 units, Elder said the Ohio livestock permitting program will be responsible for 130 to 200 operations. If the number is dropped to 750 to 800 units, there will be from 500 to 1,500 operations that come under state permitting requirements.
If the ceiling was lowered to 300 animal units, between 2,000 to 3,000 operations would have to be permitted in Ohio.
That would make the difference in having an effective inspection program and having a bureaucratic agency that just hands out permits, Elder said.
EPA timetable. The EPA recently announced it is reopening its comment period on the national regulations. It is now expecting to be ready to propose final rules by December 2002.
“But we want to get started with our program,” Elder said. “Getting under way and anticipating what may happen will be better than just putting our program on a shelf and waiting. The guidelines we have written are too good for that.”