EPA Drops CAFO Reporting Rule
Concentrated animal feeding operations will not be required to report proprietary information to EPA after the agency dropped a proposed rule Friday that ag interest groups said would have jeopardized privacy and security for livestock producers.
The reporting rule not only would have given EPA access to information about CAFO locations, acres available for manure application and numbers of head of cattle on operations, but the agency would have made the information available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
EPA posted the decision on its website, saying the agency would instead acquire needed information by other means.
“Although collecting CAFO information is important, the agency believes an efficient approach that does not duplicate efforts is the appropriate next step,” EPA said.
“EPA will collect CAFO information using existing sources of information, including state NPDES programs and other programs at the federal, state, and local level to help ensure CAFOs are implementing practices that protect water quality.”
Ashley McDonald, deputy environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said while EPA still is able to access much of the information it needs, the rule would have been much more risky for producers.
“The important point is that the agency not get the information through Sec. 308 of the Clean Water Act,” he said, which would have led to EPA posting the information on its website.
“Most of the information that EPA sought can be retrieved through other channels that will not require them to post it on their website for all the world to view.”
McDonald said EPA will receive information from permit applications made by CAFOs in eight non-delegated states, or those states that rely on EPA to run the NPDES program. Agencies in the remaining states will have the information available for EPA use.
“It is unlikely that much of the proprietary information is available publicly for non-permitted authorities unless state laws require it,” he said. “So, the point is that at present the information is in a decentralized form that is much more difficult to ascertain, and the extent of the information depends on the state.”
McDonald said it will be more “labor intensive” for EPA to go through other channels instead of getting it directly from producers.
PERMITS NOT AFFECTED
The decision comes just days after EPA Region 7 issued a scathing report about Iowa’s CAFO permitting program. Based on a preliminary investigation, EPA said it found the state wasn’t doing enough to inspect CAFOs and questioned whether its zero-discharge law complies with the Clean Water Act. EPA asked the state to respond within 60 days.
EPA said its decision to drop the reporting rule “does not change which CAFOs need permits under NPDES.”
EPA entered into a settlement agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club in May 2010. This came about despite a lawsuit won by the National Pork Producers Council on EPA’s 2008 CAFO rule.
That rule required large livestock operations that might discharge into waterways to obtain Clean Water Act permits. On NPPC’s suit a federal court ruled that the Clean Water Act requires permits only for operations that actually discharge.
“This action is inexplicable,” said Jon Devine, NRDC senior attorney. “EPA passed up an efficient, uniform and accurate mechanism for obtaining needed information — a survey that would get the data directly from operators — and opted instead for a messy, time-consuming and surely incomplete process of gathering information from states and other sources.”
R.C. Hunt, NPPC president and pork producer from Wilson, N.C., said EPA made the right decision.
“As we have consistently stated, the proposed rule was the result of a sweetheart settlement between EPA and environmentalists that would have provided no public health protections,” he said.
“It would have been a duplicative and burdensome paperwork exercise for producers and clearly was an effort to undermine court decisions that said producers who don’t discharge into waterways don’t need a CWA permit.”
The NCBA opposed the rule for fear it could present risk to the nation’s food supply.
NCBA President J.D. Alexander said in a statement Monday that EPA’s decision was a “victory” for the industry.
“Early on, we called for EPA to pull this rule,” he said. “It turns out they listened. This really showcases the importance of cattlemen and women becoming engaged in the regulatory process and making sure their concerns are heard.
“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. This can be done in a way that does not put our food system at increased risk.
“EPA resides in Washington, D.C., and seldom gets the opportunity to hear directly from the providers of food for this country. It is paramount that we continue being engaged in the regulatory process.”
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