Regulatory Agencies Take A Closer Look At CAFOs
. . . In recent months, news stories have focused attention on possible links between waste from large-scale animal feeding operations and environmental upsets such as the pfiesteria-related fish kill in the Chesapeake Bay. This, in turn, has raised concerns within federal and state regulatory agencies over the adequacy of safeguards to prevent spills and overapplication.
. . . There are approximately 450,000 animal feeding operations (AFOs) in the United States. About 6,600 of these operations fall into the largest category and are referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Although some CAFOs have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the early 1970s, the growing concentration of animals in these types of operations and the availability of new waste management technologies and runoff controls have pushed a nationwide effort to revise current regulations.
. . . At the federal
level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a wide-ranging enforcement
initiative focused on CAFOs. Last March, the Agency issued its "Draft Strategy
for Animal Feeding Operations" and a "Compliance Assurance Implementation
Plan for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations." A key element of the draft
strategy is the Agencyís call for aggressive enforcement of Clean Water Act
permit requirements and an increase in facilities permitted, while the implementation
plan provides for increased targeted CAFO inspections based on environmental risk.
Under the strategy, EPA would require livestock operations with more than 1,000 cattle,
2,500 hogs, or 100,000 chickens to obtain new waste management permits. If adopted,
the draft would mean stricter controls, greater enforcement, and added expenses to
eliminate runoff from animal feeding operations. Among its objectives, the draft
expands compliance/enforcement efforts, focuses on priority watersheds, improves
Clean Water Act permits, and revises existing regulations.
Litter from broiler growout houses is one of the focus areas of CAFO regulation.
[Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia]
. . . Perhaps the most visible regulatory changes on the state level have occurred in Oklahoma where Governor Frank Keating has signed legislation that puts more stringent controls on CAFOs. In particular, Oklahoma's law requires poultry growers to use best management practices to keep poultry waste out of watersheds. It also calls for the transfer of waste out of certain environmentally sensitive watersheds, includes standards for phosphorous levels and poultry waste application, and levies penalties for violators. Another aspect of the legislation allows integrator companies contracting with poultry growers in the state to contribute $150,000 collectively to waste management training classes offered to growers by Oklahoma State University. This is in return for not having to pay any per-bird fees for waste management in the state. The integrators also will contribute $50,000 collectively each year for the next three years for poultry waste education.
. . . The state of Maryland has also taken regulatory action to deal with problems in the Chesapeake Bay. Its Water Quality Improvement Act requires that all agricultural operations with annual gross incomes in excess of $2,500, or more than eight animal units of 1,000 pounds each, implement a nutrient management plan by a prescribed deadline. Operations using commercial fertilizers must also have a nutrient management plan in place. Preliminary work at the state level has already begun to develop these nutrient management regulations.
. . . In North Carolina, Governor Jim Hunt approved a $2.9 million plan to step up water quality monitoring, invest more in pfiesteria research, and improve response to fish kills. And last year he signed into law the Clean Water Responsibility Act, which includes a moratorium on hog facilities, allows counties to zone large hog farms, cracks down on animal waste, and limits nutrient levels in rivers and streams. The bill also authorizes the state to develop a plan to improve the quality of North Carolina's waterways.
. . . Other states that have enacted AFO legislation include Arkansas, South Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Utah. And still many other states, such as Alabama and Georgia, have formed stakeholder committees to take a closer look at the controls and enforcement practices in their states.
. . . The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has proposed revised AFO rules that would require new facilities to maintain a minimum buffer distance from property lines, existing occupied dwellings, parks, hospitals, etc. In addition, all AFOs would be required to implement animal agriculture management practices that meet or exceed U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service technical standards and guidelines. Mike Creason of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division explains that the state envisions a tiered regulatory approach with feedlot permit levels based on the size of a facility. For example, very small facilities would not be regulated directly at all, but somewhat larger facilities would probably have to register with the state (that is, give location of facility and number of animals at facility), followed by a general permit for still larger facilities, while the largest facilities would continue to have individual permits. The Georgia Poultry Federation along with representatives from the state's poultry processors and producers and members of the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech have put together a proposed plan that requires all broiler farms, breeder farms, and layer farms to develop and implement a certified nutrient management plan. Under the proposed plan, farmers would receive certification after a representative attends and completes a training program offered by the University System of Georgia.
. . . Enforcement of stricter waste management practices at the federal and state level as a tool for reducing animal feedlot runoff is inevitable. Poultry, cattle, and swine operations will undoubtedly be faced with more stringent controls as their respective industries continue to grow. A top priority, indeed, will be to reduce the possibility of environmental threats to the nation's waters. For instance, reductions in animal runoff will decrease the amount of excess nutrients (nitrogen- and phosphorus-based) entering surface water bodies. Also, protection of surface and groundwater also protects drinking water resources throughout the United States, while reductions in leaching from manure storage lagoons will protect groundwater resources from nitrate and pathogen contamination.
. . . Finally, in a bold step, EPA's draft strategy sets goals for itself and the states to fully regulate and issue Clean Water Act permits to the largest CAFOs by 2002 and to fully regulate and permit all other CAFOs and priority facilities in impaired watersheds by 2005. In addition, the Agency and the states will expand efforts to ensure that all permits include comprehensive waste management requirements, including land application conditions, and will revise regulations to support this effort by December 2001. EPA will also revise national guidelines for allowable levels of waste flowing from poultry and swine facilities by December 2001, and national guidelines for cattle and dairy facilities by December 2002. The Agency plans to identify and list priority watersheds at greatest risk from AFOs next year.