EPA's new reporting rules for CAFOs impact states
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a significant policy change that has sparked opposition from livestock owners and some state officials.
In order to satisfy terms of a 2010 settlement with environmental groups regarding Clean Water Act implementation, the EPA intends to require all facilities defined as large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to report farmers’ names, farm locations and detailed manure-handling information. The information would be compiled in a publicly accessible database.
Attorneys general in 12 states, including Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan, as well as a number of state environmental departments have joined the animal agriculture industry in opposing the rule.
Many farmers are concerned that public access to the information (which before had not been so widely available) could threaten food safety, lead to increased trespassing and vandalism, and possibly endanger the privacy and security of the farmer’s family because the facility address is often that of the farmer’s residence.
The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources is recommending that the EPA allow states to continue to hold this data, rather than compiling a national database. EPA policy adviser Ellen Gilinsky says the agency understands the biosecurity and privacy concerns and is willing to work closely with the industry.
Dennis Fewless, director of the North Dakota Department of Public Health, opposes the rule, saying it interferes with state responsibilities and might exceed the EPA’s authority to demand that facilities submit information “required to carry out” Clean Water Act objectives. The rule would require information from all CAFOs; however, a 5th Circuit Court ruling last year limited the EPA’s regulating authority over CAFOs to those that actually discharge pollutants from their property.
North Dakota has already taken steps to achieve the goal of the proposed rule, and its actions could eventually serve as a model for EPA implementation of the rule in all states. The North Dakota Department of Health identified animal-feeding operations in the state using commercially available aerial images and, using state records, provided the EPA with a list of the facilities and contact information for each.
At this point, the EPA has refused the state’s guidance on which facilities actually met the definition of a CAFO; joint EPA and state inspections were held to determine farms’ compliance with state and federal rules.
Meanwhile, in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas, the EPA is being criticized for conducting its own aerial surveillance to monitor discharges from CAFOs, a practice that some in the industry say compromises the privacy of farmers who feed livestock on their home property.
Tom Bauman, an official with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, has a different problem with the rule. He says gathering information such as land application of manure on individual farms and ensuring that it is up to date would be a significant burden on states. Bauman says his department would gladly provide the EPA with the information it maintains on CAFOs, but doesn’t want to have to gather additional information.
Differing opinions from state authorities might be related to how many CAFOs a state has. Whatever the final rule, it will require closer communication between state environmental agencies and animal operations.
Carolyn Orr serves as CSG Midwest staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The committee’s co-chairs are North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll and Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn.