Texas agricultural corporation Mahard Egg Farm Inc. is to pay a $1.9 million civil penalty to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at its egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department have announced.
Along with the penalty, which the EPA says is the largest ever to stem from a federal enforcement action involving a concentrated animal feeding operation – the EPA’s term for a factory farm, the corporation will spend approximately $3.5 million on remedial measures to ensure compliance with the law and protect the environment and people’s health.
The Clean Water Act complaint, filed jointly with the settlement by the United States and the states of Texas and Oklahoma, alleges that Mahard operated a facility without a permit and discharged pollutants into area waterways. Mahard also allegedly discharged pollutants or otherwise failed to comply with the terms of its permits at six other facilities, including its newest facility near Vernon, Texas, where it also failed to comply with the Texas Construction Storm Water Permit and to ensure safe drinking water for its employees. The states of Texas and Oklahoma also alleged violations of state laws.
Most egg production facilities generate various wastes, including wet or dry manure from chicken houses, wastewater from the egg-washing process, and compost from chicken carcasses. If handled correctly, these wastes may be sold or contained on-site in manure storage lagoons, prior to being applied to nearby fields. However, the joint complaint alleges that, as a result of Mahard’s historic practice of over-applying waste to its fields, the soils at its facilities are saturated with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and, during and after rainfall, these nutrients are discharged into area streams and waterways. In addition, at several facilities, Mahard abandoned inactive and improperly designed manure lagoons rather than closing them as required by law.
As part of this settlement, Mahard has committed to comprehensive, system-wide changes in order to bring each of its seven concentrated animal feeding operations into compliance with applicable state and federal laws, permits, and regulations and to restore the lands to prevent future discharges to area waterways.
The settlement mandates the performance of specific requirements, such as lagoon closures, groundwater monitoring, and the construction and maintenance of buffer strips along area waterways within the facility boundaries. It also requires on-going land restoration and management measures, such as restrictions on land-application of manure and livestock grazing.
“Large animal feeding operations that fail to comply with our nation’s environmental laws threaten public health and the environment and put smaller farming operations at a disadvantage,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
The EPA says this action is a continuation of its focus on large and medium sized factory farms that are discharging pollution without or in violation of a permit.