EPA to Withdraw Proposed Rule On Livestock Facility Reporting Requirements

Withdrawal of CAFO Reporting Rule  

Key Development: EPA will withdraw proposed rule that would have required all concentrated animal feeding operations, regardless of whether they discharge into water, to report information about their operations.

What's Next: EPA will work with the Association of Clean Water Administrators to collect information on CAFOs from existing state, local programs.

By Anthony Adragna  

The Environmental Protection Agency will withdraw a proposed rule, widely opposed by livestock and other industry groups, that would have required all concentrated animal feeding operations to report information about their operations, regardless of whether they discharge into water.

In a notice that will soon be published in the Federal Register, the agency said it would collect basic information on CAFOs through existing sources at the state and local level. EPA said it had established a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Clean Water Administrators, which will assist the agency in collecting information.

EPA posted the notice on its website July 13. The agency said that working with states was an efficient approach that would “not duplicate efforts” from existing programs. The agency reserved the right to initiate a similar rulemaking at a future date.

First proposed in November 2011 as part of a settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club, the rule would have required all CAFOs to report data on the size of their facilities and basic operational characteristics. The proposed rule also offered the option of only requiring information from CAFOs in watersheds with poor water quality compliance problems (NRDC v. EPA, 5th Cir., No. 08-61093, settlement reached 6/16/2010).

Another option in the proposed rule would have used already available information from CAFOs with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.

The settlement resolved a lawsuit filed by environmental groups opposing a 2008 CAFO rule that excluded certain facilities from reporting requirements.

Comments on the proposed rule were due in January. State farm bureaus and livestock, poultry, and dairy groups all said EPA could not require information from CAFOs that do not discharge under Section 308 of the Clean Water Act (15 DER A-29, 1/25/12).

EPA said it continued to consider CAFOs an important part of water quality planning, but that it could obtain all the necessary information through existing sources.

“Some states commented that they have the information proposed to be collected by the rule and expressed interest in working with the EPA to exchange that information,” the agency says in the forthcoming Federal Register notice. “Continued implementation of the permitting process for CAFOs will likely result in improvements in data tracking and availability and analysis of CAFO information.”

An EPA spokeswoman directed questions to the proposed Federal Register notice.

Industry Groups React.

Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said EPA made the right decision by withdrawing the rule.

“We think this approach is a good way to streamline the process and get EPA the information it needs,” he told BNA in a July 16 interview.

Livestock organizations also applauded the decision to pull the rule.

“The proposed rule was the result of a sweetheart settlement between EPA and environmentalists that would have provided no public health protections,” National Pork Producers Council President R.C. Hunt said in a statement. “It would have been a duplicative and burdensome paperwork exercise for producers.”

J.D. Alexander, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the decision showed how important it was for producers to get involved in the regulatory process.

“We encourage the agency to redirect its focus to working with states and other partners to attain already publicly available information that would allow them to work toward their goal of improved water quality,” he said in a July 13 statement. “This can be done in a way that does not put our food system at increased risk.”

Environmental Groups Object.

Jon Devine, senior attorney for NRDC, said his organization was disappointed but not surprised by EPA's decision.

“Nothing in EPA's notice gives us any confidence that they'll be able to compile a usable database,” he told BNA. “The entire endeavor appears to be done on little more than shared hope.”

Devine said NRDC would work with other environmental groups to get EPA the relevant information as quickly as possible, but he described the approach as “doomed to fail.”

By Anthony Adragna