The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached an agreement with several environmental groups to consider regulating water pollution from factory farms, according to press reports and a press release by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
The NRDC led a consortium of organization including the Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance to challenge a rule created in the waning days of the Bush administration that allowed concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) to police themselves with regard to animal waste discharge into the water supply. The Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System requires that CAFOs apply for permits if they dispose of waste into waterways. However, CAFOs do not need to apply for permits if they state they do not believe their waste is discharging into waterways. Independent verification by the EPA is not required.
The consortium of environmental groups mounted its challenge to the regulation in January of 2009. According to the EPA’s settlement with the groups, the agency will now investigate thousands of factory farms to determine if those without permits should in fact be regulated.
According to the NRDC, animal waste in waterways can kill fish, spread disease, and contaminating drinking water. According to the EPA, pathogens such as E. coli are responsible for 35 percent of the nation’s impaired river and stream miles.
According to an Associated Press report, the agency plans to act on the settlement within two years and will seek public comment.
Environmental Leader previously reported on a second challenge has been mounted by environmental groups against the EPA asking them to regulate air pollution at CAFOs. That effort, led by they Humane Society of the United States, argues that CAFOs emit greenhouse gases, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, particulate matter and small particulates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).