The (CAFO) NPDES Proposed Rule is withdrawn…“at this time”

It was interesting news, at least for those of us who find ag-environmental issues interesting.  The “it” in this case, was the decision by The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the proposed rule to require reporting of specific information from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) (Signed by EPA Administrator Jackson on July 13, 2012).

This proposed reporting rule, under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), was very unpopular in the agricultural community but was lauded by environmental groups. The proposed rule would have required medium and large CAFOs to report information to the EPA such as CAFO location, owner contact information, NPDES permit information, type and number of animals, and descriptions of land available for manure application. 

As you can imagine, the withdrawal of this rule generated some comments amongst the environmental groups.  Speaking to the rule’s withdrawal, Food and Water Watch Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter said, “The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it is abandoning its plan to gather even the most basic information from the over 20,000 highly polluting and largely unregulated factory farms in the United States. This move by the EPA is a dereliction of duty.”

While this recent development might be good news for CAFO owners and operators, it should be considered in context and with a dose of reality.

Keep in mind that the EPA is still doing CAFO flyovers in EPA Region 7 and trying to enforce Clean Air Act discharges under the Clean Water Act (see article by attorney Gary Baise). And there is still a pending deadline for preparation of Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans. 

The language in this most recent rule withdrawal was even a bit “fuzzy.”  For example, in this relatively short, 12-page announcement, much of it filled with standard boiler plate language, I counted three times the EPA used the phrase “at this time,” as in, “The EPA believes, at this time, it is more appropriate to obtain CAFO information by working with federal, state, and local partners instead of requiring CAFO information to be submitted pursuant to this rule” (emphasis added).  One could suppose this means there will be another time when the EPA may “believe” differently, but this is purely conjecture.

This much is not conjecture; if you are a CAFO owner/operator, you simply cannot afford to take environmental regulations lightly.  Continue to remain compliant with the environmental rules and regulations and keep a vigilant eye on developing regulations.

If you have questions or need assistance with an environmental issue, contact Matthew Schroeder, P.E. (mschroeder@dragun.com), Christopher Paré (cpare@dragun.com), or Amy Owen, P.E. (aowen@dragun.com) at 248-932-0228.

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