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Agriculture Today

Manure issues cloud Clean Water controls

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Wilson County News
February 1, 2012 | 4,368 views | Post a comment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is again inviting comments regarding permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), related to the Clean Water Act. The government agency says this is a means to “effectively carry out its CAFO permitting programs on a national level and ensure that CAFOs are implementing practices to protect water quality and human health.” Organizations are concerned that the government may obtain data that, in the wrong hands, could cripple the cattle industry.

The latest proposal follows a settlement agreement reached with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club, and includes two options.

In the past, only medium- and large-sized confined feedlots had to apply for a permit to discharge manure pollutants onto the land. If the first of two options as proposed is passed, all confined feedlots -- regardless of size -- and feedlots in a targeted watershed would be required to report to the EPA. The EPA estimates the current number of 20,000 confined feedlots could rise to more than 212,000 animal feeding operations in this case.

If states such as Texas have a pollutant discharge system in place, the state may report -- on a voluntary basis -- the needed data to the EPA on behalf of the confined feedlot.

Since September 1998, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System is the federal regulatory authority, with the exception of discharges associated with oil, gas, and geothermal exploration and development activities, and is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission.

The second proposal states that “all CAFOs in focus watersheds would be required to submit information to the EPA.” If approved, all feedlots in the watershed would be required to submit the data.

In a general overview of a “CAFO Proposed Rule Talking Points” handout provided by Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association on Jan. 16, based on data submitted to the EPA, “the EPA would determine whether these specific operations are complying with nutrient management standards as outlined within the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System -- complying with appropriate water quality/management systems. The reporting would be done through an online (or if not possible, mail-in) form.

“Concern has been raised over the security of these reports and the release of CAFO data to the public. Many environmental groups are disappointed that the proposed rule is not more specific and state that the information requested won’t allow local entities to determine the extent to which CAFOs are contributing to water pollution.”

Data requested in the second option includes number/type of animals held in confinement, number of acres available for land application of manure, and drinking water source supply. It does not include the capacity of manure storage available.

More control?

Prior to the Oct. 14 proposed rule, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of National Pork Producers Council v. EPA in March 2011, stated that CAFOs that actually discharge into the waters of the United States are required to apply for the national pollutant discharge elimination system permit. At the time, the court vacated the requirement permits needed for confined feedlots that propose to discharge into the water.

Why the need for all confined feedlots to apply? According to the EPA, the agency “does not have facility-specific information for all CAFOs.” The objective of the EPA is “to address water-quality issues associated with discharges of manure pollutants from CAFOs, and to allow the EPA to more efficiently and effectively achieve the water quality protection goals and objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

Alternative approaches are included, such as using existing data sources (U.S. Department of Agriculture ag census), expanding the EPA network of compliance, and state reporting.

The comment period has been extended until Monday, Feb. 20, upon the request by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and a letter submitted by the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council. The Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council was formed in September 2010 and has grown to include more than 30 participants from the agricultural and forestry sectors, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. The participants are “supportive of protecting and improving water quality.”

Will the proposed rules lead the agency to have more authority than is allowed by law, since the Fifth Circuit decision pertains only to confined feedlots that discharge into the water? The EPA plans to take final action by July 2012.

What is a CAFO?
“An operation must first meet the animal feeding operations definition before it can be considered a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). An animal feeding operation is a lot or a facility where animals have been, are, or will be stable or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period and where vegetation is not sustained in the confinement area during normal growing season.”

CAFOs are considered, if using cattle or cow/calf pairs as an example:

•Large -- 1,000 or more

•Medium -- 300-999; and meets one of the following criteria: has a manmade ditch or pipe that carries manure or wastewater to surface water; or the animals come into contact with surface water that passes through the area where the animals are confined.

•If a feed operation contains fewer animals, it can become classified a CAFO, “if the EPA or the state permitting authority designates the facility as a CAFO.”

•Large range- or pasture-based operations, as long as the animals are not kept in confinement, are not considered a CAFO.
Source: EPA website

Submit comments
Comments identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0188 may be submitted by:

•Online at

•email to

•Fax to 202-566-9744

•Mail to Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20460.

To review the Federal Register posting, visit

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