Hey, what's that smell? New CAFO rules released to mixed reviews.

At the end of October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released some last minute revisions to water quality permitting requirements for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  CAFOs can be found on a range of farms from small family-run dairies on the North Coast (primarily in Tillamook County) to huge pork, chicken and beef producers in places like Iowa, California, or North Carolina.  The EPA calls a farm a CAFO if it houses and feeds a large number of animals in a confined area for 45 days or more during any 12-month period.  Because of our wet winter weather, nearly all Tillamook area dairies are considered CAFOs.  These facilities are permitted and must document their manure management activities in order to reduce emissions of nutrient and bacteria loaded manure into U.S. waters.   States (here, the Oregon Department of Agriculture) are responsible for the enforcement of CAFO permits.

The new CAFO rules are generating some stink from some while others declared them a good idea.  Here’s the skinny from the blog eNews USA:

Pork producing CAFO. Image courtesy of USGS.

October 31 the U.S. EPA announced it has finalized a rule helping to protect the nation’s water quality by requiring concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to safely manage manure. EPA estimates CAFO regulations will prevent 56 million pounds of phosphorus, 110 million pounds of nitrogen, and 2 billion pounds of sediment from entering streams, lakes, and other waters annually. Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles said, “EPA’s new regulation of animal feedlots sets a strong national standard for pollution prevention and environmental protection, while maintaining our country’s economic and agricultural competitiveness. This clean water rule strengthens environmental safeguards by embracing a zero discharge standard and requiring site-specific management plans to prevent runoff of excess nutrients into our nation’s waters.”

EPA indicated that it is the first time it has required a nutrient management plan (NMP) for manure to be submitted as part of a CAFO’s Clean Water Act permit application. Manure contains the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which, when not managed properly on agricultural land, can pollute nearby streams, lakes, and other waters. Previous rules required a CAFO operator to use an NMP for controlling manure, but the regulation builds on that by requiring the NMP to be submitted with the permit application. The plan will be reviewed by the permitting authority and conditions based on it will be incorporated as enforceable terms of the permit. The proposed NMP and permit will be available for public review and comment before going final. Note: from a farmer’s perspective in Oregon, this is not a big change–a NMP was already required by ODA.

The regulation also requires that an owner or operator of a CAFO that actually discharges to streams, lakes, and other waters must apply for a permit under the Clean Water Act. If a farmer designs, constructs, operates and maintains their facility such that a discharge will occur, a permit is needed. EPA is also providing an opportunity for CAFO operators who do not discharge or propose to discharge to show their commitment to pollution prevention by obtaining certification as zero dischargers. Note: this is the rub for some in the environmental community. Many producers can show they have zero discharge, hence exempting them from some of the requirements of the original CAFO regulations.

In addition, the final rule includes technical clarifications regarding water quality-based effluent limitations and use of best management practices to meet zero discharge requirements, as well as affirming the 2003 rule requirement for reducing fecal coliform through the use of best conventional technology.

Like most regulation related to water, the new rules flew under most Americans radar as they were busy bundling up their kids for Halloween festivities. But they did generate comments from the producers most affected: The National Pork Producer Council (NPPC) called the new regulation “tough but fair rule” and said it sets a high environmental standard for livestock producers.

In the meantime, the environmental community found things to be a bit more odoriferous. In particular, the Natural Resources Defense Council called the final rule a “Halloween Trick from Bush Administration: Treat to Factory Farms.” NRDC declared that, “literally and figuratively, this rule puts the Bush Administration’s stamp of approval on a load of manure.”

Look out for more changes to water and environmental regulation as the Bush Administration heads for the door on January 20th.

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