EPA issues new runoff permit

Apr 13, 2012

Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) and Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) executives say feedlot operators in the state need not worry about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing a new permit regulating water runoff and pollution.

Only those who actually discharge runoff into nearby surface waters need the new permit. In the previous regulations, permits were required for those even proposing to do so.

The new permit requires EPA to publicize nutrient management plans of producers who must report manure production volumes, how the manure is treated, and how it is applied on fields. Feedlot operators who have had their existing permits extended will have 90 days after May 9 to apply if they want a new one.

Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of ICA, which has about 800 members, said his organization would not recommend many, if any, cattle producers in the state file for the new EPA permit because, realistically, cattle producers and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in the state are permitted under an Idaho plan.

“I’ve yet to review the entire permit. We’ve been working on this for several years,” Prescott said. “The main point, unless you intend to discharge, is I wouldn’t concern myself for a permit.”

Idaho is one of a few states that does not have primacy over its water, he said. “We have primacy over air, but not water. … The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are trying to expand their jurisdiction. … EPA is trying to get authority over every part of water it can,” including stock water tanks.

EPA has the ability to fine operations that violate water discharge regulations by $37,500 a day. “That’s something we want to keep at bay as much as possible and keep under state control,” Prescott said.

Bob Naerebout, executive director of IDA, which has about 570 members, or virtually every dairy operation in the state, said he does not see a hidden agenda in EPA’s recent release of the new permit.

“I don’t think this will have a large impact on the dairy industry at all. The state is more stringent. We don’t see any impact,” Naerebout said, mentioning he was involved in discussions with EPA in regard to written comments on the initial draft.

“We don’t know how many of our comments were taken into consideration,” he said, adding he still needs to thoroughly review the new permit.

Milk prices remain below production costs, mainly because of high feed expenses, and Idaho’s dairy industry continues to struggle, Naerebout said. Milk prices “really tumbled” in 2009, but stabilized somewhat in 2010-2011, but at still $2 below production costs.

“I have a hard time understanding how (dairy operators) have endured as long as they have. They have done remarkably well,” Naerebout said, emphasizing if they stay within state guidelines, they will not need to be burdened by the EPA permit.

In 2011, the Idaho Legislature enacted a new law that keeps private nutrient management plans submitted to legislators. Livestock officials have expressed concerns about documentation and added paperwork that the new EPA permit would require. Environmentalists also have commented on the livestock industry’s impact on groundwater, lakes and streams.

The EPA permit takes into account recent federal court rulings that have weighed on government oversight of feedlots and impacts on endangered species. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent