EPA Proposing Rule to Require Animal Feeding Operations to Provide Data

By Linda Roeder

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule Oct. 18 that would require animal feeding operations to submit a range of data to regulators, including information on the number and type of animals on site and the number of acres available for land application of manure.

EPA said the proposed rule would improve its ability to ensure that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are complying with the Clean Water Act under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program. The agency plans to issue a final rule by July 2012.

The proposal contains a detailed table setting thresholds for large, medium, and small CAFOs for cattle, swine, horses, sheep, chickens, and other livestock. An animal feedlot is considered a CAFO if it falls into the large or medium categories.

EPA agreed to issue the information collection rule as part of a settlement agreement reached in May 2010 that resolved a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

The agreement was reached with the National Resources Defense Council, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club, which objected to a 2008 EPA final rule (NRDC v. EPA, 5th Cir., No. 08-61093, settlement reached 5/16/10; 101 DEN A-10, 5/27/10).

Two Reporting Options

The proposal contains two options regarding which facilities would have to provide information to EPA. One would require every CAFO to report information to EPA unless a state with an authorized NPDES program voluntarily chooses to collect the information. The second option would require CAFOs in watersheds with water quality concerns associated with CAFOs to report information directly to EPA.

Required information would include facility contact, location, whether the facility has NPDES permit coverage, the number and type of animals, and the number of acres available for land application of manure. Both options would apply to unpermitted and permitted CAFOs.

EPA estimates that a CAFO will need one hour to collect and submit the required information. Based on an estimated 20,000 CAFOs in the United States (both permitted and unpermitted), the collective reporting burden would be about $200,000, the agency said.

EPA also said it is seeking comment on alternative approaches for gathering the information, including the use of existing data sources, the use of alternative mechanisms for promoting environmental stewardship and compliance, and the use of state reporting.

Tightened Oversight

Under the settlement, EPA agreed to tighten oversight of animal feedlots where releases of bacteria, viruses, and parasites from animal waste can pollute nearby waterways. According to EPA, CAFOs are a significant source of nutrient pollution and pathogens in U.S. waters.

The 2008 revised rule required NPDES permits only from CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge pollutants. The 2008 revisions allow CAFO owners and operators to determine case-by-case whether or not permit coverage is required for their facilities. The rule revised NPDES permit regulation and effluent limitations guidelines for CAFOs (73 Fed. Reg. 70,418).

In its 2008 final rule, EPA said it revised its 2003 regulations to address a 2005 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA(399 F.3d 486 (2005)). The court directed EPA to require nutrient management plans from CAFOs that apply for an NPDES permit, and to allow these plans to be reviewed by permitting authorities and the public. The court also ordered EPA to eliminate the requirement that all CAFOs apply for an NPDES permit.

Five-Year Updates

Under the settlement, EPA agreed to propose within one year a rule to require all concentrated animal feeding operations to submit details to the agency about their operations and to update the information every five years (55 DEN A-9, 3/22/11).

Environmental groups said the 2008 rule would effectively exempt thousands of factory farms from taking steps to minimize water pollution from the animal waste they generate.

Alexandra Dunn, executive director of the Association of Clean Water Administrators, told BNA in an e-mail that states have been “overall supportive” of inventorying CAFO facilities, but they have had some concerns about who would be responsible for collecting the information. Dunn said she has asked ACWA members for immediate feedback and said the association will comment on the proposal.

Comments on the proposed rule will be due 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The proposal is available at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id+7 .

For more information, contact Becky Mitschele of EPA's Office of Wastewater Management at (202) 564-6418 or by e-mail at mitschele.becky@epa.gov .