The EPA has proposed new rules that would require thousands of large animal feedlots and poultry operations across the nation to obtain permits that would restrict how animal wastes are managed.
The rules, proposed in December, are aimed at reducing polluted runoff that often results when huge amounts of animals are confined in relatively small areas, creating large amounts of waste.
Complying with the regulations would cost the livestock industry $850 million to $940 million per year, the EPA estimates.
“Wastes from large factory farms are among the greatest threats to our nation’s waters and drinking water supplies,” said Charles Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water. “The EPA is taking action to protect public health and the environment by significantly controlling pollution from animal feeding operations.”
Where are about 376,000 livestock operations nationwide, generating about 128 billion pounds of manure each year. Historically, most of those operations were relatively small, but the trend in recent years has been toward large so-called “factory farms.”
Around the Bay, as in other parts of the country, concerns have grown about how to handle the wastes from such “Confined Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs. When too much animal waste accumulates in a particular area, it increases the chance it may run off into waterways.
A CAFO is defined as an operation with 1,000 or more “animal units.” That is equivalent to about 1,000 cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,550 hogs, or 100,000 chickens.
Although there has been authority to regulate CAFOs under the Clean Water Act for more than 20 years, only about 2,500 nationwide have permits.
Under the proposed rules, each CAFO would have to develop a nutrient plan to determine the appropriate rates at which manure can be applied to cropland to reduce the risk of runoff. Any farmers receiving manure from a CAFO would also have to certify that they were applying wastes at an appropriate rate.
The regulations prohibit the application of manure within 100 feet of surface waters and have provisions to protect groundwater.
The regulation would require that large livestock integrators — processing companies that often own animals but contract with farmers to raise them — share responsibility for meeting regulatory requirements. Maryland has recently begun requiring such “co- permitting” of some operations in the state.
Poultry, veal and swine operations would be required to prevent all discharges from the storage lagoons where wastes are collected. The rules would also eliminate exemptions from permits provided to livestock operations by some states.
The agency is still struggling with determining what feedlots would be considered CAFOs and subject to new regulations. The agency is taking comments on two options:
- A three-tier structure in which a feedlot is a CAFO if it has more than 1,000 animal units, or it has between 300 and 1,000 and meets certain conditions. Those with less than 300 animal units are generally not defined as a CAFO.
- A two-tier system in which a feedlot is a CAFO it has 500 animal units or more.
Depending which definition the EPA pursues, the regulations would affect between 26,000 and 36,000 feedlots nationwide. That would be 5–10 percent of all feedlots, but it would affect 60–70 percent of all manure, according to the agency.
The regulations were developed in response to a suit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, but the NRDC denounced the rules as “grossly inadequate.”
It and other environmental groups faulted the EPA for not dealing with air pollution issues stemming from feedlots, or with antibiotics and heavy metals which may also be present in manure. The groups also faulted the agency for not requiring a phase-out of massive manure storage lagoons. “The EPA knows the problems and they know the solutions,” said Ken Midkiff, Clean Water Campaign Coordinator with the Sierra Club. “Unfortunately, they have chosen to take only a half-step forward toward protecting America’s waterways from this pollution.”Some agricultural groups faulted the EPA for turning to regulations before giving voluntary programs that were instituted in recent years a chance to work. The National Chicken Council called the rules “intrusive and overzealous” and said it was unrealistic for large companies to keep tract of the activities of all their contractors growing chickens.
The EPA planned a 120-day comment period on the proposed rules after they appear in the Federal Register.