In he spring o 2013, hree environmenal organizaionsobained documens rom he U.S. Environmenal ProecionAgency (EPA) hrough he Freedom o Inormaion Ac (FOIA).The documens relaed o he EPA’s process o gahering daaabou concenraed animal eeding operaions (CAFOs). Thosedocumens were shared wih several organizaions, includingFood & Waer Wach. On April 4, 2013, he EPA ook he un-characerisic move o asking or he original se o documensback due o pressure rom he livesock indusry and Con-gress, ofering a limied subse o he documens as a replace-men.
Food & Waer Wach declined o reurn he originaldocumens o he EPA.CAFOs are aciliies ha raise large numbers o livesock inconined condiions, leading o high concenraions o waseand waer polluion.
The documens obained rom he FOIAreques deailed he EPA’s recen rulemaking process, knownas he “308 Rule,” ha would have required basic daa collec-ion abou CAFOs under Secion 308 o he Clean Waer Ac(CWA). These hundreds o documens provided rom he FOIAreques reveal he EPA’s ailure o collec daa abou heselarge indusrial livesock aciliies across he naion as well asweaknesses in he CAFO permiting process.The release o documens was me wih ouraged responsesrom mea indusry and livesock organizaions, whichclaimed violaions o privacy.
These organizaions havemissed he poin: CAFOs discharge polluans ino naionalwaers, and hey should be reaed like any oher polluingaciliy under he CWA. Federal regulaion should includeNaional Polluion Discharge Eliminaion Sysem (NPDES)permis or all CAFOs and creae a public naional daabasewih basic inormaion abou he ownership, operaion andlocaion o hese aciliies and heir scale. Releasing his daashould no be conroversial. Bu o make maters worse, heEPA has ailed or decades o even collec i, under pressurerom he livesock and poulry indusry o hide heir aciliiesrom public view.Food & Waer Wach, Iowa Ciizens or Communiy Improve-men, he Environmenal Inegriy Projec, he Cener orFood Saey and he Humane Sociey o he Unied Saes aresuing he EPA o orce i o do wha i should have done inhe irs place: creae an accurae, publicly available daabaseo all CAFOs in he Unied Saes. I is impossible o regulaeCAFO aciliies efecively wihou even compiling a lis o how many exis. The EPA should reissue he 308 Rule as acriical sep in reducing polluion rom CAFOs.
According o he EPA, agriculure remains a major source o waer polluion.
Saes have ideniied animal eeding opera-ions speciically as he polluers o almos 20,000 miles o riv-ers and sreams and over 250,000 acres o lakes, reservoirs andponds.
While livesock wase in appropriae quaniies canserve a useul purpose as erilizer or crops, he huge concen-raion o animals in CAFOs leads o excessive concenraionso wase.
Large-scale commercial livesock and poulry opera-ions produce an esimaed 500 million ons o manure eachyear, more han hree imes he sewage produced by he enireU.S. human populaion.
Ye, unlike human wase, livesockwase rom CAFOs is unreaed and is usually applied direclyo ields as erilizer, oen a raes ha exceed hose neces-sary o erilize crops.
Many sudies have ound ha CAFO wase conaminaesnearby bodies o waer wih numerous polluans, includingnirogen, phosphorus, hormones, anibioics and pahogens.
According o he Governmen Accounabiliy Ofice (GAO),“manure and wasewaer rom animal eeding operaions can ad-versely impac waer qualiy hrough surace runof and erosion,direc discharges o surace waer, spills and oher dry-weaherdischarges, and leaching ino he soil and groundwaer.”
The CWA, passed in 1972, gave he EPA he auhoriy o regu-lae any eniy discharging polluion ino naional waerways,including CAFOs. The EPA has considered CAFOs a “poinsource” o waer polluion since he 1970s.
The EPA iniiallyocused is efors on indusrial sies and sewage reamenplans, leaving CAFOs virually unregulaed or years.
TheEPA began requiring Naional Polluan Discharge EliminaionSysem (NPDES) permis or some CAFOs in 2003, wih revi-sions made o he regulaions in 2008.
The permis, issued by he EPA or a sae agency under heEPA’s auhoriy, se “speciic limis and condiions” on howCAFOs discharge wase ino local bodies o waer.
The 2008CAFO regulaions include signiican weaknesses, oremosamong hem relying on individual CAFO operaors o deer-mine i hey discharge or inend o discharge and hus wheh-er hey should apply or a permi.
According o a 2003 GAOrepor, however, “EPA oficials believe ha mos large opera-ions eiher discharge or have a poenial o discharge animalwase o surace waers and should have discharge permis.”
Jus as worrisome as he inconsisen permiting is he lack o inormaion he EPA possesses abou CAFOs. Neiher he EPAnor any oher ederal agency collecs comprehensive daa onhe number o CAFOs or heir size or locaion. Wihou hainormaion, he EPA simply canno regulae CAFOs efecive-ly.
The lack o daa afecs he EPA’s abiliy o enorce per-miting requiremens, ideniy sources o severe waer qualiyproblems, evaluae CAFOs’ overall impac on waer qualiyand promoe bes managemen pracices on CAFOs.
A-emps by he EPA o miigae his siuaion, such as compil-ing esimaes based on NPDES permis issued o CAFOs, have