7.4 Environmental Management
Animal Feeding Operations (AFO’s)
The Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System of permits (NPDES) do not stand alone in protecting America's waters from NPS runoff from animal feeding operations. In particular, the state-led programs, when coupled with various Farm Bill, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act incentives and support, can provide significant and continuing opportunity for major environmental quality protection. Federal water policies must recognize that the value of the state programs, if enhanced through federal efforts, could provide a firm foundation for a sound national NPS policy, including addressing the runoff associated with animal agriculture. States should have the flexibility and the authority to protect their natural resources from potential negative impacts resulting from livestock production by enacting statutes, regulations, and voluntary programs based upon sound science, economic feasibility, and the specific needs of the state. As an example, natural resource protection on medium-sized livestock farms will be best served by state programs which match requirements with available resources, because conservation does not occur without farm viability. States implementing effective zero discharge programs for confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) should not be forced to require CAFO’s to also have NPDES permits.
EPA does not have authority under the CWA to subject the land application of manure to some form of NPDES permit requirements, as it has recently sought to do. The intent of the CWA is clear – non-point sources of pollution are not subject to mandatory regulations under the CWA, but are to be addressed through voluntary, outcome-based programs. The legislative language makes a clear and concise distinction between point and non-point source management. The land application of manure has been a standard practice in agriculture since humans first introduced livestock into their agricultural activities. It has been an integral part of agriculture’s fertility and land improvement ever since. As such, and as for any of the other agricultural activities taking place across the land, the land application of manure is a nonpoint source activity under the CWA. It is imperative that the federal clean water program not require states to operate in any different manner.
Congress must support USDA’s incentives and NRCS technical assistance to help producers deal with their livestock manure management challenges, and EPA must continue to work with USDA in support of these efforts. Private sources of technical assistance on nutrient management matters will increase in importance as animal agriculture works to improve its manure management activities. Although the private technical assistance delivery system has been growing dramatically in recent years, it is nowhere near the capacity needed to prepare the number and kind of plans that EPA and USDA have envisioned. The federal agencies must not rely on the private sector delivery system beyond its capacity to provide solid and technically sound assistance. To do so would result in poor nutrient management plans, little help to the environment, and great damage to the credibility and future usefulness of this fledgling service sector. Such an initiative must build off the existing federal-state public conservation delivery system. The private sector can provide little of the needed services without maintaining a viable NRCS field staff and county Soil and Water Conservation District capability.
Compliance with state and federal regulations by livestock operations should offer some form of presumption of compliance with the objectives of regulatory programs and provide reduced liability associated with off-farm environmental degradation or nuisance law suits. This so-called environmental assurance concept or "safe harbor", which incorporates relief from additional regulations and enforcement, is necessary to ensure active voluntary participation.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
(Updated September 2012)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for more than 25 years. In many cases, the states preceded the federal government in both recognizing and regulating issues related to animal feeding operations. Throughout the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's, a number of states set higher or more restrictive standards for CAFOs, usually as a result of local issues or information. Some states developed permit programs and/or required design criteria for protection of both surface water and ground water. Other states implemented voluntary, incentive-based programs with strategies for nutrient management. These efforts have been led by state agriculture and conservation agencies working together with federal agencies, livestock and poultry industries, land grant universities, engineering consultants, scientists, and other local stakeholders.
Both state and federal CAFO rules have been reevaluated and updated over the past several years to keep up with industry changes, new technologies, and public perceptions. EPA finalized new regulations for CAFOs in 2003 which expanded the number of operations covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA) permit program to an estimated 15,500 operations. New permit requirements were added to include comprehensive nutrient management planning, and to extend coverage to include all poultry operations of a certain size. EPA is currently revising its 2003 CAFO rules to conform to a ruling of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005. EPA proposed a revised rule in 2006, but it has not yet been finalized.
NASDA supports EPA’s proposed 2006 revised rule. Now, the state agriculture departments and other agricultural stakeholders are anxiously awaiting the agency’s final rule. We have urged EPA to limit the final rule to the issues addressed by the court ruling and to provide more clarity on the regulatory obligations of livestock operations. States will need time to modify their CAFO programs to conform with the final rule. In late July, EPA announced that certain compliance deadlines would be extended until February 2009. This is helpful and will allow the states and other stakeholders an opportunity to adjust to the new requirements.
Although states have additional time to implement the new CAFO program requirements, the changes will create a resource and administrative challenge for state agriculture and conservation agencies. EPA has estimated that the CAFO regulations could result in compliance costs of $850 million to $940 million per year.
States will need to increase our efforts to identify, permit and inspect CAFOs. A major challenge is the ability of producers and state agency personnel to prepare the thousands of new nutrient management plans that will be required under the new rule. Livestock operators will need to address multiple nutrients in their waste management plans. They will need additional technical assistance, education, and training to comply with their permits. This creates additional demands on the state agriculture and conservation agencies which provide technical and financial assistance.
The key to achieving the national goal of assuring that animal feeding operations are managed to protect water quality is to provide states with the flexibility and resources to meet legal and programmatic responsibilities. We strongly believe that programs for managing animal nutrients are most appropriately implemented at the state and local level.
NASDA opposes requiring CAFOs to obtain an NPDES permit by characterizing ventilation dust and feathers as point source pollution under the Clean Water Act.
Classification of Agricultural Byproducts in Environmental Regulations
Livestock manure, poultry litter, crop residue disposal and other agricultural byproducts contain or volatilize into naturally occurring organic compounds such as orthophosphate, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. These naturally occurring organic compounds result from routine agricultural operations and therefore do not meet the definition of a "hazardous chemical" under the Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), or a Superfund "release" under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), nor do these compounds contain a "hazardous substance" as defined under CERCLA. As such, these agricultural byproducts produced during routine agricultural operations should not be subject to the provisions of EPCRA and CERCLA.
Rangelands, Pasturelands & Grasslands
NASDA recognizes the importance of grasslands and rangelands. These land resources account for almost one-half of the total area in the United States and are found in all 50 states.
Our land resources are important to agricultural and livestock production but also provide many benefits to society: clean air and water, open space, recreation and wildlife habitat. These lands are the base of our protein food supply and the proper grazing of these lands is essential to maintaining a healthy landscape and environment.
NADSA strongly supports efforts to promote and enhance the stewardship of these lands. The conservation programs of the NRCS, Forest Service, BLM, and EPA are strongly supported by state departments of agriculture.
NASDA fully supports the ongoing research by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) National Program in Rangeland, Pasture and Forages. This research will produce valuable scientific information and new tools for assessing and managing rangelands and pasture lands. NASDA appreciates the contribution of the Universities and Extension programs in this nation. The ability of this nation’s people to feed themselves with less than 10% of their income is in a significant degree due to their efforts.