Pennsylvania is finalizing new regulations for animal feedlots that officials say go beyond federal requirements to protect streams from agricultural pollution.
The regulations, drafted to ensure compliance with federal regulations approved in late 2002 for large confined animal feeding operations—or CAFOs—were released for a 90-day public comment period in late April.
The huge amount of manure generated by large animal operations is considered to be a major threat to local water quality and is a significant source of nutrient pollution.
The state’s new regulations in many cases require permits for smaller operations than would be needed under federal rules—the Department of Environmental Protection estimates that an additional 190 operations, mostly large poultry operations, will be covered under the new program.
New construction and operation requirements would be set for manure storage and management operations, and the regulations set new requirements for manure applications to fields, including a 100-foot setback (or 35-foot vegetative buffer) from streams.
“Our proposed regulations are more encompassing and inclusive than federal law,” said DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty. “No farms will be permitted to discharge into rivers in Pennsylvania under these regulations, and pursuant to the states’s Clean Streams Law, which itself is more stringent than federal law.”
But some environmentalists said the regulations would not go far enough.
A task force that served in an advisory capacity in the development of the rules had recommended that small and medium operations with manure discharges entering surface water be defined as CAFOs and fall under the regulatory umbrella unless they halted their discharges within a set amount of time. But the DEP, in its final rules, failed to adopt that recommendation.
“DEP’s proposed regulation ignores the impact of smaller animal operations that make up a significant portion of agriculture in Pennsylvania, as well as the recommendations of its own task force, which outlined a plan to help smaller farms comply with the law within a reasonable time frame,” said Matt Ehrhart, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania office.
McGinty said the agency was trying to “focus on clean water, not on labels” and would strengthen other regulatory requirements to take care of such problems without adding to the burdens of small farmers.
The CBF also contended that the state did not have enough resources to implement and enforce the regulatory program, and did not require enough monitoring to make sure it was working.
That echoed concerns raised in a report by another group, PennFuture, which last year contended that the state’s inspection and enforcement program for compliance was weak. The group said it could get enforcement information for only 61 of 118 facilities it examined, and more than half of those had no record of inspections. The group said the state largely relied on self-inspections by feedlot operators.