EPA changes CAFO requirements

Oct 29, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a proposed rule for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that was written primarily to settle another dispute between EPA and environmentalist groups, although EPA claims it is necessary to meet water quality protection responsibilities under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

EPA finalized the rule in October, claiming it will protect the nation�s water quality by requiring CAFOs to safely manage manure.

According to Ben Weinheimer, vice president, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the rule would require CAFOs to submit information to EPA such as the owner�s name, contact information, exact location, and status of permit coverage, head count, and details on land application of manure, information that is already provided to the states. �EPA already has the information in their hands; the rule is duplicating information the states already have readily available,� Weinheimer said.

According to EPA, this information would allow them to monitor and oversee the effectiveness of permitting programs already in place by state agencies and EPA regional offices.

EPA has already been regulating CAFOs for more than 30 years. According to EPA, the final rule responds to a February 2005 federal court decision that upheld most of the agency�s 2003 rule, but directed further action or clarification on some portions. Under the settlement, EPA agreed to tighten what they consider an oversight of animal feedlots where releases of bacteria, viruses and parasites from animal waste could pollute nearby waterways.

The settlement agreement between the Natural Resources Defense Council, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club has EPA considering two options in the proposed rule. One option would require every CAFO to report this information directly to EPA, unless states with authorized permit programs choose to provide this information on behalf of the CAFOs in their state. A second option would require CAFOs in focus watersheds that have water quality concerns associated with CAFOs to report information to EPA. Both options would apply to unpermitted and permitted CAFOs.

The proposal also contains a detailed table setting thresholds for large, medium and small CAFOs for cattle, swine, horses, sheep, chickens and other livestock.

�They are attempting to get their hands around and identify those CAFOs not in the permit system so they can monitor them,� Weinheimer said. The never-ending debate of EPA overreaching its authority adds to the frustration.

�The reporting rule is pure frustration. Why add on additional reporting for something that is already there,� Weinheimer added.

EPA estimates that a CAFO will only need one hour to collect and submit the required information. Based on an estimated 20,000 CAFOs in the U.S. (both permitted and unpermitted), the collective administrative reporting costs would be about $200,000 annually, EPA said.

Region 7 Administrator John B. Askew said, �This CAFO rule strengthens environmental safeguards by allowing the public to comment on CAFOs land-application requirements and provides that approved requirements become enforceable terms of a facility�s permit. The rule also creates a no-discharge certification based on stringent design and management requirements. The changes will better protect water quality while also clarifying the requirements that CAFOs must meet.�

The rule adds new requirements relating to nutrient management plans for permitted CAFOs. The rule also includes a no-discharge certification for CA- FOs that can establish that they will not discharge. Additionally, the rule revises the requirement for all CA- FOs to apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and instead requires only those CAFOs that discharge, or propose to discharge, to apply for permits.

Previous rules required a CAFO operator to use a nutrient management plan (NMP) for controlling manure, but the new regulation requires the NMP to be submitted with the permit application. The plan will be reviewed by the permitting authority and conditions based on it will be incorporated as enforceable terms of the permit. The proposed NMP and permit will be available for public review and comment before becoming final.

The revised rule allows CAFO operators who do not discharge or propose to discharge to obtain a zero-discharge certification. This certification requires that the CAFO (1) be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained so as not to discharge; (2) develop and implement a nutrient management plan that governs the land application of manure; and (3) maintain documentation necessary to demonstrate that the CAFO does not discharge. Specifically, the CAFO must evaluate the adequacy of its storage using 100 years of precipitation and other weather data.

If the CAFO would have discharged, it is not eligible for the no-discharge certification.

The regulation clarifies that an owner or operator of a CAFO that actually discharges or proposes to discharge to streams, lakes and other waters must apply for a permit under the CWA.

EPA estimates CAFO regulations will prevent 56 million pounds of phosphorus, 110 million pounds of nitrogen, and 2 billion pounds of sediment from entering streams, lakes and other waters annually.

Comments on this proposed action must be received on or before Dec. 20 and can be submitted through www.regulations. gov under docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0188. EPA plans to adopt a final rule by July 2012. EPA national headquarters and Region 7 headquarters will sponsor separate webcasts on Nov. 19. The EPA headquarters webcast will begin at 11 a.m. CST and online registration is required. The EPA Region 7 webcast will begin immediately after the headquarters webcast, with no registration required, and login posted on the Region 7 webcast portal. Questions can be emailed to ca fowebcast@yahoo.com. � Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor