December 17, 2002
EPA will crack down on factory farms' waste
Pollution control permits will be required for more than 400 Illinois operations
By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Factory farms producing large amounts of animal waste, including more than 400 in Illinois, will have to apply for a permit to control
pollution that flows into the nation's waterways under new federal rules announced Monday by the Bush administration.
"This new rule is a historic step in our efforts to make America's waters cleaner and purer," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie
Whitman. "It will help reduce what has been a growing problem - the fact that animal waste generated by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations poses an
increasing threat to the health of America's waters."
However, environmentalists criticized the new regulations for being too weak, leaving too much discretion to the states and relying largely on voluntary
compliance by producers.
"They're punting to the states," said Melanie Sheperdson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Water Project. "It's a sweet
deal for factory farm polluters, but it stinks for the rest of us."
In Illinois, the new rules are expected to require 482 large operations with 1,000 or more "animal units" to apply for permits, most for the first time. Another 3,000 medium-sized operations also might be affected,
state EPA officials said.
"That's a significant step," said Bruce Yurdin, watershed management manager at the IEPA's Bureau of Water. "That's going to be an interesting
changeover from what we've seen in the past."
State officials, who were still poring over the fine print of the new regulations late Monday, had no estimate of the cost of enforcing the regulations. But the cost to states nationwide is estimated at $9 million a year.
In Illinois, the new rules may make it harder politically for critics of large livestock operations to win stricter state regulations.
"I have neighbors who can't take baths in their well water for the fecal contamination," said Karen Hudson, a family farmer in Peoria County whose battle against factory farms has led her to become a consultant with
the national advocacy group, GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment.)
The new regulations require livestock producers to develop a nutrient management plan that limits how much animal manure can be applied as fertilizer on fields. The plans have to be approved by the state and
would be reviewed by the federal government.
In addition, producers would have to file annual reports on the number of animals they have, the amount of manure they use and where it goes.
For large producers, the estimated cost is $283 million a year and $39 million for medium-sized producers. But their expenses will be partially offset by conservation funding in the 2002 farm bill, EPA officials said.
Nationwide, the new regulation would increase the number of facilities required to seek a permit from 4,500 to 15,500 by 2006, EPA officials said. The rule would eliminate current exemptions for farms that only
discharge during large storms, those with immature swine and heifers and those with chickens in a dry manure handling system.
Large-scale animal operations produce about 220 million tons of manure annually, the EPA estimates. From 1982 to 1997, large livestock operations have grown by 51 percent with some of the largest having more than a million animals.
When manure is overapplied to the land or overflows from storage lagoons, it kills fish, spreads disease and contaminates drinking water supplies. In addition, the EPA doesn't have an adequate method for measuring
air emissions from animal feeding operations, a National Academy of Sciences' study recently concluded.
The rule defines large animal operations as those raising more than 1,000 cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 swine, 10,000 sheep, 125,000 chickens, 82,000 laying hens and 55,000 turkeys in confinement.
Particularly troublesome to environmentalists is that the final rule drops proposals from the Clinton administration to require livestock processors to obtain water pollution permits along with the farms they contract to grow chickens and hogs. The proposal would have made corporate owners liable for
environmental damage caused by factory farms they contracted with to raise their livestock.
"They're leaving behind pollution problems that the rest of us have to pick up and clean up," said Elizabeth Burns, grassroots coordinator for the Illinois
Members of the Rochester, Ill.-based Campaign for Family Farms also protested the rules' failure to ban open manure lagoons and for failing to provide for full public disclosure on the nutrient management plans.
"By polluting the air and water, corporate livestock producers give family farmers a bad wrap," said Edith Galloway, a CFF spokeswoman and livestock
producer-member of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.