Environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a settlement yesterday requiring the agency to propose a rule on greater information gathering on factory farms, otherwise known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The rule, to be proposed within 12 months, would require the 20,000 or so domestic factory farms to report information like how they dispose of manure and other waste.

cafo-featured.jpgThe National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance said their lawsuit, filed in early 2009, targeted a rule that “effectively exempted thousands of factory farms” from keeping animal waste out of waterways protected by the Clean Water Act.

“Thousands of factory farm polluters threaten America’s water with animal waste, bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make people sick,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine in a statement Wednesday. “Many of these massive facilities are flying completely under the radar; EPA doesn’t even know where they are.”

According to the National Resources Defense Council, waste from CAFOs has also lead to dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and other major bodies of water.

“Under today’s settlement, EPA will initiate a new national effort to track down factory farms operating without permits and determine for itself if they must be regulated,” the National Resources Defense Council stated in a release yesterday. “The specific information that EPA will ultimately require from individual facilities will be determined after a period of public comment. But the results of that investigation will enable the agency and the public to create stronger polluting controls in the future and make sure facilities are complying with current rules.”

“I think what this information-gathering process will help us do is validate and really explore companies’ claims that they don’t discharge,” said Devine. “The ultimate goal is “making sure that those facilities that can damage water supplies around the country are adequately regulated.”

The National Pork Producers Council expressed “deep frustration and anger” over the agency’s “continuing efforts to develop costly agricultural regulations that provide few if any additional environmental benefits.”
“With this one-sided settlement, EPA yanked the rug out from under America’s livestock farmers,” said Michael Formica, the pork producers council’s chief environmental counsel, in a statement yesterday. “[The National Pork Producers Council] is looking at all appropriate legal responses to EPA’s disappointing course of action.”
“This agreement sets the stage for new Clean Water Act permitting measures that will add to producers’ costs, drive more farmers out of business, increase concentration in livestock production to comply, and hurt rural economies,” said Randy Spronk, a Minnesota pork producer who heads the National Pork Producers Council’s environmental committee. “And the measures will do nothing really to improve water quality.”

The EPA is expected to take final action on a rule within two years after soliciting comments from the public.