The EPA is implementing new rules for confined animal feeding operations—CAFOs, those big factory farm feedlots that can become environmental nightmares when not properly managed and regulated. This press release, apparently from the EPA and posted in an industry newsletter, makes it sound like the new regulations will prevent all sorts of water pollution. Come December 22, the EPA will require CAFO operators to submit a nutrient management plan with their Clean Water Act permits to address nitrogen and phosphorus from manure.
Now that sounds great... if the CAFO operator is filing a Clean Water Act permit. Check out this paragraph from the press release:
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 [Dave Ryan, EPA, "Manure: EPA Finalizes CAFO Rule," Water and Wastewater.com, 2008.11.17].
"...a CAFO that actually discharges...." How do we know if a CAFO requesting a permit will discharge any waste? Why, they'll tell us, of course:
... [EPA Region 7 Administrator John] Askew described two major provisions of a new agricultural strategy that flows from the Clean Water Act.
One would allow owners of livestock farms to opt out of discharge permit requirements if they can certify that they are not at risk of run-off emergencies....
Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch is troubled by an approach that allows large livestock farms, known as confined animal feeding operations, to certify that they don’t need discharge permits because they say they are not at risk of discharging.
As far as he can tell, there’s no provision made for EPA to verify those certifications.
“That’s our problem,” Corbo said, “that there’s no oversight over this self-certification. So that’s a major issue" [Art Hovey, "Livestock Operations Await New Rules for Manure Pollution," Lincoln JournalStar, 2008.11.28].
Despite my frequent manure spreading here on the blog, I don't raise cattle and can't claim expertise on feedlot operations. But allowing factory farms to opt out of environmental permitting on their own good word sounds like letting me opt out of getting a building permit just because I tell Zoning Officer Deb Reinicke, "Oh, don't worry, Deb, I'll build it so it won't fall over."
Next up from the Bush Administration: formal USDA recognition of foxes as henhouse guards.