The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the long-awaited environmental rules governing the nation's largest agricultural feedlots.

The agency received more than 14,000 comments for its new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rule that was two years in the making.

The rules mainly govern beef, dairy, poultry and swine.

CAFO will mandate added environmental protection for hog operations including beefed up manure handling, nutrient management planning and recordkeeping and reporting.

“The new CAFO rule will add significant compliance costs, new responsibilities and additional public oversight risks to pork production,” charges National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Dave Roper, Kimberley, ID, producer. “Although EPA and the Bush Administration have worked hard to develop a rule that is affordable, achievable, sustainable and science-based in nature,” he adds, “the rule will present many challenges to pork producers over the next 15 to 20 years.”

States will be required to upgrade existing environmental regulatory programs to meet these tough new federal standards under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In general, the EPA rule will apply to pork producers who feed at least 2,500 mature animals in confinement for more than 45 days per year, although in some instances smaller operations will also be affected.

A top concern for pork producers, says Roper, was the proposed plan to require all permitted hog facilities to meet a “zero discharge” standard even under severe rainfall conditions, while not applying that rule to most other livestock sectors.

NPPC succeeded in having this provision withdrawn for existing operations and modified considerably for new operations.

Overall, the chief concern is that this rule will burden pork producers with many new costs that could threaten their existence.

“NPPC will focus its efforts on helping producers secure the technical and financial assistance they will need to upgrade the environmental performance of their facilities,” Roper notes. That will include help with accessing funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that provides substantial technical and cost-share assistance to qualifying producers.

The EPA rule can be viewed online at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/afo/cafofinalrule.cfm.