Try To Toughen Rules On Animal Feeding Operations
"Barack Obama will work for tougher regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to prevent air and water pollution."-- Obama's Blueprint for Change
JANUARY 04, 2010
EPA Solicits Public Comment On CAFOs
The Environmental Protection Agency solicited public comment on enforcement priorities for fiscal 2011 to 2013, a list that includes CAFOs.
OCTOBER 15, 2009
EPA Recommends Quick Action On CAFOs
The EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance released an action plan report on enforcement of Clean Water Act provisions at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and other point-source polluters.
The report recommended that the EPA take action in the enforcement of permit programs that cover CAFOs should any state’s effort not achieve suitable water quality. It also suggested improvements to the Safe Water Drinking Act for the regulation of CAFOs whose discharges pollute surface waters, especially during storms, that then are fed into the drinking water supply.
By Emily Vaughan
In early September, the Obama administration released a series of draft reports about restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Largely overlooked, these reports could serve as a blueprint for tightening regulations on farms across the country.
Federal agencies tasked with helping restore the Chesapeake Bay drafted the reports following a May executive order. The Environmental Protection Agency, given the goal of defining "the next generation of tools and actions" to improve water quality, set its sights in one of the reports on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs): large-scale animal farms that the Clean Water Act regulates as a point-source for pollution.
As much as 25 percent of all pollution in the Bay originates at CAFOs in the form of animal waste runoff, said Chuck Fox, the EPA's senior adviser to the administrator for the Chesapeake Bay. Agricultural practices are the largest contributors of the nutrient and sediment pollution that makes it into the Bay, the EPA report says. Excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, the main pollution culprits, wash into waterways and cause destructive algae blooms that create dead zones, areas where there isn't enough oxygen in the water to support life.
Excess manure at CAFOs is the source of the problem. Current federal regulations require farmers to outline how they will deal with animal waste. But the regulations only cover what happens in the production area at the farm, a big loophole for farmers who can escape federal oversight by taking the manure off-site.
It's no surprise that the EPA's recommendations include tightening restrictions on factory farms. Currently, many such facilities must obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The EPA's plans in the Bay hinge on expanding the number of legally defined CAFOs so they fall under this permit system.
The EPA also recommends revising the definition of CAFOs to cover smaller operations, and wants to institute "next generation" nutrient management plans and better recordkeeping of the waste farmers move off their property. Fox anticipates that federal rulemaking would take two to three years, though if the recommendations were implemented through individual states in the watershed, all of which currently have stricter standards than the EPA, the time could be cut in half.
"Unlike past documents that focused on goals, this one focuses almost entirely on actions," said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in a statement the day after the release of the reports.
Thus far, the recommendations remain local. "We got very direct directions from the president with respect to the Chesapeake, so we're focusing a lot of our attention on the Chesapeake," said Mike Shapiro, deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. "And we're also still in the process of implementing our new CAFO regulations nationally."
Just because specific policies would work in the Chesapeake "wouldn't necessarily mean that the same requirement would be justified or necessary on a national basis," Shapiro said. But he conceded that with additional study, some of the practices could be put in place in other areas. "I can't exclude the possibility that we may be modifying our national regulations as well," he added.
SEPTEMBER 09, 2009
EPA Recommends CAFO Regulation In Chesapeake Bay Report
As part of its efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft report that included recommendations to further regulate CAFOs, large-scale farms where animals are raised in confined areas. The Clean Water Act designates these operations as point sources for pollution. EPA wants to expand the definition of a CAFO to include more farms, thus drawing more operations under federal and state rules. The agency also recommends toughening permits to enable stricter regulation of nutrient discharges and better record-keeping of off-site transfers of animal waste.