A recent paper published in the Journal of Animal Science suggests that giving permitting authority to state agricultural departments instead of environmental agencies could help simplify the permitting process. For many confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) owners, securing a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is expensive, inconvenient and confusing. Owners of CAFOs face complicated permitting systems that are inconsistent between states.

In their paper, "Reducing CAFO Permitting Requirements," University of Georgia researchers T.J. Centner and G.L. Newton explain why restructuring the discharge-permitting process is important. Though the federal government regulates discharge in order to follow the Clean Water Act, many states have taken over regulation and instituted even stricter discharge guidelines. As the paper's authors explain, this means that federal and state regulations governing proposed discharges and land application discharges may be different. They say this system leads to confusion for national groups that seek to summarize the CAFO Rule across states, as well as for CAFO owners with operation in more than one state.

The paper's authors also explain an incident where many CAFO owners believed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped. Under a 2003 CAFO Rule, the EPA began requiring permits for any CAFO with the "potential for discharge." CAFO owners disagreed with this requirement; a group of petitioners successfully argued in court that the "EPA lacked authority to require CAFOs to secure a permit in the absence of actual discharges," according to the paper's authors. Centner and Newton write that it may help to grant agricultural departments permitting authority rather than environmental agencies at the state level. The agricultural agencies would still follow the Clean Water Act, but some farmers feel that agricultural agencies could better understand and handle the needs of CAFOs.

"Depending on a state's regulatory objectives, changes in permitting oversight might alleviate some of the burdens that currently accompany NPDES permitting requirements," write Centner and Newton.

An abstract of the article can be found online at jas.fass.org/. The paper can also be downloaded at the website.