NSAC's Blog

EPA Takes Steps to Regulate Feedlot Pollution

August 1, 2013

Late last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took two steps toward preventing illegal pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs.

First, the Agency issued a criminal enforcement alert indicating that it will aggressively prosecute owners and operators of CAFOs who “knowingly or negligently discharge pollutants from a point source (such as lagoons, tanks, pipes, or other conveyances) into waters of the United States without (or in violation of) a permit.”

This alert represents something of a shift for EPA, which until recently has been reluctant to enforce Clean Water Act violations by CAFOs.  Since an unfortunate appeals court ruling that dictated that EPA cannot require CAFOs to apply for a national pollutant discharge permit before a discharge occurs, it has become increasingly important for the Agency to vigilantly monitor CAFO activities and take enforcement actions.

Second, the Agency has proposed to convert its national pollutant discharge permitting process to an online system.  The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program is currently paper-based.

According to the proposed rule, CAFOs and other regulated entities would “use existing, available information technology to electronically report information and data related to the NPDES permit program in lieu of filing written reports.  The proposal will also allow better allocation and use of limited program resources and enhance transparency and public accountability by providing regulatory agencies and the public with more timely, complete, accurate, and nationally-consistent sets of data about the NPDES program and potential sources of water pollution.”

Public comments on the proposed rule are due by October 28.  See the Federal Register notice for information on how to file comments.

Large-scale CAFOs cause significant environmental and public health threats.  In addition to emitting air pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic chemicals, CAFOs are a major source of water pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, pathogens, antibiotics, pesticides and heavy metals.  EPA reports that the waste generated by large-scale conventional hog, chicken, and cattle operations has polluted over 35,000 miles of river and has contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

The recent actions taken by EPA bring us two small but not insignificant steps closer to meaningful regulation of CAFOs and the damage they cause, though the underlying Clean Water Act rules for CAFOs remain quite weak.

At the end of last year and early this year, EPA held a public comment period on whether or not to change the underlying regulations.  That Regulatory Flexibility Act review is currently scheduled to conclude this coming October.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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