A petition to substantially increase regulation of CAFOs was filed on March 9, 2017, with EPA. Environmental groups claimed in the petition that “Decades after passage of the CWA, CAFOs remain a significant – and substantially unregulated – source of water pollution throughout the United States.” Environmental groups also declare “EPA has significant authority to revise its approach and strengthen its oversight of industrial livestock pollution, and Petitioners believe that EPA has an obligation pursuant to its CWA duties to do so without further delay.”
Food and Water Watch, Arkansas Rights Koalition, Association of Irritated Residents, Des Moines Water Works, Dallas County Farmers and Neighbors of Iowa, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Moms Across America Eastern Shore Chapter of Maryland, and numerous other environmental groups filed a 58-page petition condemning all CAFOs as pollution point sources and for allowing the spreading of manure on fields and runoff into waters of the United States.
The petition makes a number of interesting charges. It claims EPA’s current CAFO regulations are insufficiently strong, do not require water quality monitoring, do not prohibit practices which harm water quality, ignores pollutants discharged into water, and places manure waste management into the hands of “weak” state agencies.
The petitioners say they represent millions of citizens across the United States including those adversely impacted by CAFO water pollution.
The Petition asserts that CAFO waste disposal practices have created harmful water pollution and claim “Twenty-nine states have specifically identified Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) as contributing to their water quality impairments, and states with high concentrations of CAFOs experience on average 20 to 30 serious water quality problems per year as a result of manure management problems.”
The sources of all this pollution are production areas, land application fields, spills, runoff and intentional discharges which come from manure lagoons, pits, stockpiles, ventilation fans, and mortality management areas.
The environmentalists’ petition claims manure from CAFOs “…pose substantial threats to human health and the environment.” The threats from manure waste include “…nitrogen, phosphorus, pathogens, salts, heavy metals, trace elements, antibiotics, and hormones.” In fact the environmental groups claim that manure waste from CAFOs “…can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and an increase risk for severe illness or death.”
A parade of horrors
The parade of horrors goes on. It claims “EPA has previously found that heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese, and nickel,…are commonly found in CAFO manure, litter, and processed waste water.” To make matters worse, CAFO manure waste is alleged to contain large quantities of hormones. The petition cites one study which estimates “…that approximately 722,852 pounds of naturally-produced estrogens, androgens, and progestogens were excreted by cattle, swine, and poultry in 2000; accounting for all synthetic hormones in manure, the use of which does not have to be reported, would drive this figure even higher.”
The petition claims these hormones and their metabolites are found in streams and creeks and waters downstream from cattle feedlots. Environmental groups cite EPA claiming “…40% of CAFOs are currently regulated under the NPDES program…” The environmentalists also claim “EPA [is]…unwilling to stand up to CAFO industry pressure…”. Several pages are devoted to criticizing EPA for failing to represent America’s farmers and their CAFOs. (Strange that the petition never mentions Congress and the specific exemptions given to agriculture’s stormwater runoff.)
I will close with the specific requests made to EPA by the 34 environmental groups:
- EPA should establish an evidentiary presumption that certain CAFOs discharge and are either subject to NPDES permitting or must rebut the presumption by demonstrating they do not discharge;
- EPA should revise its interpretation of agricultural stormwater exemption such that no discharges resulting from CAFO activities are exempt as non-point source pollution’
- EPA must ensure that integrators who meet the CWA definition of owner or operator are co-permitted with contract producers, as the statue has always required;
- EPA should revise certain definitions in the CAFO regulations;
- EPA should revise the requirements applicable to all CAFOs, including by requiring water quality monitoring in CAFO NPDES permits to ensure compliance with the CWA and permit terms; and
- EPA should revise the CAFO ELGs to address additional CAFO pollutants of concern, prohibit practices known to harm water quality, and otherwise strengthen existing requirements.
EPA needs to team up with USDA to answer the charges made in this petition. With a new Secretary for USDA in Governor Perdue, I suspect he is tough and knowledgeable enough to take on the environmentalists’ charges and discredit them.
(This article first appeared in Farm Futures on March 14, 2017)
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