The proposed revisions by the Environmental Protection Agency to rules for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations would put a large number of small-to medium-sized livestock operations in serious financial jeopardy.

Livestock interests strongly oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed update of its 30-year-old water quality rules for agriculture.

A number of commodity groups and producers submitted comments by the July 30 deadline. The final rule is to be finalized December 2002 and published January 2003.

There is a three-year phase-in period for developing Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP), meaning the rule will be fully implemented by early 2006.

The rule would expand the number of livestock operations being regulated and needing permits, further restricting the storage and management of manure.

Background

The 1972 federal Clean Water Act (CWA) established a comprehensive program to protect water quality through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating "point" sources that discharge pollutants into U.S. waters. "Point sources" include pipes or man-made ditches.

The program also identified farms needing NPDES permits that are classified as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or "point source" facilities. Effluent guidelines were revised, establishing performance standards for CAFOs with a NPDES permit.

Pressure on Animal Agriculture

Pressure from several environmental groups to ensure livestock operations were being held accountable for their contribution to environmental and health issues led EPA to issue a revised set of regulations for CAFOs.

In their response to this EPA proposal, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) acknowledged support for environmental improvement programs. But it disagreed that the goals can be achieved through EPA’s current proposed CAFO regulation under the authority under the CWA. This has resulted in NPPC strongly disagreeing with several aspects of the draft rule based on economic discrepancies and legal grounds.

Jeff Schoenbacher, director of environmental services for the National Pork Board, says there are many discrepancies within the proposed rule. However, one of the most disturbing in EPA’s rulemaking is its economic analysis used to justify the regulations.

For instance, EPA proposes to eliminate the "24 hour, 25-year" storm event exemption and impose a zero discharge standard for hog operations. But in their economic analysis, EPA failed to fully evaluate the incurred costs to comply with such a standard.

"Independent economic analysis done by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) showed that these added costs dramatically increased the probability that significant numbers of hog operations of all sizes in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions would be driven out of business," declares Barb Determan, president of the National Pork Producers Council.

NPPC’s other major objections that EPA’s plan exceeds its CWA legal authority include:

"Zero discharge" to groundwater: This proposed standard would apply to all beef and dairy CAFOs and all "new" swine and poultry CAFOs, and would require the facility to prove no "direct hydrologic connection" exists between surface waters and groundwater. "New" sources would be defined as any that replaced animal housing or waste handling equipment.

That a passage in the rules would require monitoring wells around feedlots and manure storage systems unless the producer could certify no hydrologic link exists between his feedlot and the groundwater supply, asserts Jeff Lorimor, Iowa State University agricultural engineer.

Monitoring wells basically don’t work in many parts of the country and can be a source of contamination themselves if not properly capped, monitored and sampled, he points out.

Co-permitting: Under the EPA plan, hog corporations that contract with CAFOs would be "co-permitted" with CAFO owners/operators provided the contractor has "substantial operational control" over the CAFO. NPPC charges this proposal is beyond EPA’s CWA authority. The CWA controls only the "discharger" of pollutants. This concept would lead to further industry consolidation at the expense of independent contract producers.

EPA regulation of manure application practices and agricultural storm water discharges: Where AFO or CAFO manure has been applied to land, EPA’s proposal would apply the agricultural storm water discharge exemption only if "proper" land application practices have been used. EPA lacks authority to regulate such discharges caused by rainfall.

Duty to apply for NPDES permit in the absence of a discharge: All CAFO owners would be required to apply for an NPDES permit based on their "potential" to discharge to U.S. waters. The CWA only bans discharges and can’t require permits for CAFO owners who don’t discharge into the water supply.

The full text of NPPC’s comments and FAPRI’s economic analysis of EPA’s draft plan is available at www.porkenvironment.org.