EPA Enforcement at Livestock Agriculture Facilities

“Listen, we all want clean air—we want clean water—but we’re not targeting agriculture to do it…”   -EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, speaking to farmers in Iowa in April, 2011

Flash forward one month…

  • An associated Press report on May 27, 2011, states that seven dairy farms in the Shenandoah Valley were inspected by the EPA. According to the news reports, the inspections focused on small dairy operations.
  • On May 26, 2011, the EPA sent a press release that said in part, “A beef feedlot in Underwood, Iowa, has agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty for unpermitted discharges of wastewater from the facility into Mosquito Creek.”
  • On May 16, 2011, the EPA sent a press release that stated, “EPA Region 7 announced today that it has issued administrative compliance orders to seven concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, directing those operations to correct a range of violations of the federal Clean Water Act.”

So which is it you may ask, is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focused on livestock agriculture or not?  We’ve said for some time that we believe the EPA will focus more and more on livestock agriculture.  Why would we say this?  Because according to the EPA’s stated National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013, they have made it clear where they are going to focus their efforts.  

According to the EPA, number two of the six “Enforcement Initiatives” is, “Preventing Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Waters.”

 “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural operations where animals live in a confined environment. CAFOs can contain large numbers of animals, feed, manure, dead animals and production operations on a small land area.  The animals generate a large amount of manure, which typically is held in lagoons or spread on nearby fields.  If not properly controlled, manure can overflow from lagoons or run off from the fields into nearby surface waters or seep into ground water, carrying disease-causing pathogens, nutrients, or other contaminants into the water.  This contaminates both surface waters and ground waters that may be used as drinking water sources and harms fish and other aquatic species in surface waters.  Several studies have found high concentrations of CAFOs in areas with low income and non-white populations. This is typical in many rural areas of the country where livestock facilities are located.  Children in these populations may be particularly susceptible to potential adverse health effects through exposure to contaminated surface waters or drinking water from contaminated ground water sources.  The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of these pollutants into surface waters, and EPA’s regulations require larger CAFOs to have permits (which impose control requirements) if the waste produced by animals on the farm will run off into surface waters.  However, many CAFOs are not complying with these requirements.  Therefore, EPA will continue and strengthen its enforcement focus on these facilities.  For FY2011-13, OECA will focus primarily on existing large and medium CAFOs identified as discharging without a permit” (emphasis added) http://www.epa.gov/oecaerth/data/planning/initiatives/initiatives.html#cafos.

Should livestock agriculture be concerned about potential enforcement by the EPA? It seems that a prudent course of action is this: be prepared.  If you are required to have a permit or plan, make sure it is up-to-date and implemented.  If you don’t need a permit or plan, make sure you know why you don’t need it and are ready to “defend” your position.  If you’re not sure if you are required to have a permit or plan, you might want to figure this out before the EPA provides you with their opinion.

Finally, it may be a good idea to have at your ready, the name and phone number of your environmental consultant and attorney…just in case.

If you need assistance with an environmental permitting or planning issue, contact Christopher Paré (cpare@dragun.com) or Matthew Schroeder, P.E. (mschroeder@dragun.com).

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