Bay Journal

EPA drops appeal in runoff case against WV poultry farmers

Case pitted farm groups against environmental groups.

  • By Rona Kobell on October 29, 2014
Lois and Tony Alt maintained that water running off their farm was agricultural stormwater, and thus not subject to Clean Water Act regulations. The court agreed.  (Dave Harp)

The EPA has dropped its appeal in the case of a West Virginia farmer who sued the agency after it required her to obtain a permit for discharges on her farm.

The case began in June 2011, when inspectors from the agency visited the Hardy County chicken farm operated by Lois and Tony Alt. The Alts grow poultry for Pilgrim’s Pride in the Potomac Highlands area of West Virginia.

Their property was chosen for the inspection because it had eight chicken houses — a large operation — and the EPA was hoping West Virginia officials would begin developing a regulatory program for similarly large operations in the state.

The Alts thought the inspection went well, but the EPA sent them a letter six months later saying they were discharging pollutants into Mudlick Run and needed a discharge permit immediately.

The EPA officials concluded that any water running off the farm that was in contact with chicken litter or feathers was “processed water,” and thus fell under regulation. The Alts countered that the runoff was agricultural stormwater, which the Clean Water Act does not cover.

In June 2012, Alt sued the agency. By December of that year, the EPA rescinded its requirement that the Alts get a permit. But the Alts decided to push ahead with the lawsuit anyway because they did not want other farmers to face the same predicament.

The Alt case was yet another example of a showdown between the American farm Bureau Federation and its state affiliates, who say the EPA is overreaching in its attempt to regulate animal-feeding operations, and various environmental groups, who say the agency isn’t doing enough.

The West Virginia Farm Bureau helped Alt with her case, while several Riverkeeper groups filed to intervene on the side of the EPA.

Brent Walls, who is Riverkeeper for the Upper Potomac, told the Bay Journal that even if Alt’s farm was relatively clean, if she didn’t meet the definition of a CAFO that required a permit, he could not think of a farm in the state that would.

Eight chicken houses constitutes a fairly large farm — indeed, the farm is named Eight is Enough. Most chicken farms in Maryland have only two or three houses, with five being on the larger side, though there is a trend toward increasing size.

Currently, residents in Maryland’s Somerset County are fighting plans for mega-farms, saying they are concerned about living next door to them.

In October 2013, A judge ruled in the Alt’s favor, saying the discharge fit the “common-sense” definition of stormwater.

The EPA appealed that decision. But this fall, the agency withdrew its appeal. Several groups who supported the EPA’s case also withdrew their appeal.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell

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