Revisions to the Clean Water Act submitted in 2017 for more effective regulations of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) were denied this week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA denied the 2017 petition submitted by Food & Water Watch and dozens of co-petitioners, including the Center for Food Safety. The petition sought to strengthen its factory farm water pollution regulations under the Clean Water Act.   

Cattle yards polluting nearby fields of leafy greens has created a food safety problem in search of a solution, which the petition might have offered.

EPA also announced that it would form a Federal Advisory Committee subcommittee to study the CAFO pollution problem and make recommendations for the agency. The process, expected to begin in 2024 and last 12-18 months, means the current administration may miss the opportunity to strengthen its factory farm regulations.

Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen said: “Factory farms pose a significant and mounting threat to clean water, largely because EPA’s weak rules have left most of the industry entirely unregulated. EPA’s deeply flawed response amounts to yet more delay and completely misses the moment.

“For over 50 years, EPA has knowingly shirked its clear obligation to regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. The lack of urgency displayed in EPA’s decision doubles down on the agency’s failure to protect our water and those who rely on it — but the fight to safeguard clean water is far from over. We are considering all of our options moving forward.”

“We know that animal factories are a huge source of water pollution and that our freshwater is in crisis, and yet EPA has failed to uphold its duty to protect our environment from this industry,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with petitioner Center for Food Safety. “We have a right to clean and safe water, and cannot afford to wait any longer to stop the tide of pollution from animal factories.” 

According to the environmental groups, CAFO pollution threatens or impairs over 14,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 90,000 acres of lakes and ponds nationwide, yet fewer than one-third of the country’s largest 21,000+ largest factory farms have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

The 2017 petition sought to improve the quantity and quality of CAFO permits by subjecting more factory farms to regulation and strengthening pollution permits for the facilities. The 33 petitioners include six national public interest advocacy organizations, and twenty-seven state and community-based organizations, representing millions of members and supporters.

“Industrial animal feeding operations should be treated like any other industrial polluter,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “Unfortunately, EPA continues to give this industry special treatment.”

The petitioners are represented by Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center.

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