February 23, 2023

EPA to study concentrated animal feeding operations

EPA to study concentrated animal feeding operations

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15), which lays out how the Agency will work to protect the nation’s waterways by following the science and the Clean Water Act to develop technology-based pollution limits and studies on wastewater discharges from industrial sources. Part of Plan 15 includes a new study on the impact of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on water quality.

In addition to evaluating the effects of CAFOs, EPA plans to expand its study of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discharges from textile manufacturers and create a new study of industrial discharges to publicly owned treatment works. CAFOS are regulated under the Clean Water Act. While regulations vary from state to state, federal law only requires permits for operations known to discharge waste. According to EPA statistics, less than a third of the nation’s more than 21,000 CAFOs have permits.

“For 50 years, EPA has implemented the Clean Water Act to protect our nation’s waters that are essential to healthy communities. This Effluent Guidelines Program Plan represents a critical next step to tackle pollutants like PFAS and nutrients at the source before they can harm our health and the environment,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “With this action, EPA continues to demonstrate our commitment to using the best available data and treatment technologies to reduce harmful industrial pollutants.”

In its plan, the agency said its rules impose “substantial and detailed requirements” on production areas, such as barns and feedlots where animals are held, plus manure storage facilities, as well as the land where manure and wastewater are spread. While prohibiting releases to waterways, the rules make exceptions for production area discharges caused by severe rainfall and for stormwater-related runoff from croplands where waste was applied in keeping with plans that manage factors such as timing and amounts. The EPA also said it would consider how well they’re controlling pollution and how changing them would bring improvements.

In 2017, a group of 34 advocacy groups led by Food and Water Watch filed a legal petition asking EPA to overhaul CAFOs regulations. In 2021, EPA announced it was not planning to revise the rules it has had in place since 2008. Because the EPA did not respond to the 2017 petition, Food and Water Watch sued the agency in federal court last year.

 Food and Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen said in a statement “For decades EPA’s lax rules have allowed for devastating and widespread public health and environmental impacts on vulnerable communities across the country. This new study is a critical opportunity for the agency to finally obtain crucial information about the true scope of factory farm water pollution, something it has lacked for decades”

Check out Plan 15 here.