EPA Withdraws Proposed Clean Water Act Regulation Requiring CAFOs to Manage Waste
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it is withdrawing a proposed Clean Water Act regulation that would have required concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to report basic information to EPA. The information is necessary to ensure that CAFOs properly handle their waste to avoid water pollution.
When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972, it specifically included CAFOs as point sources of pollution subject to regulation under the Act. Despite that fact, in a 2008 report the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that no federal agency, including the EPA, had consistent, reliable data on CAFOs. The report noted that EPA did not even have accurate information on the number of permitted CAFOs nationwide.
EPA proposed the reporting regulation as part of settlement with environmental plaintiffs in the lawsuit National Pork Producers Council v. EPA. The agency is authorized to collect the information under Section 308 of the Clean Water Act.
Environmental groups fought for the reporting regulation rule because the very weak 2008 CAFO permit rule does not require all CAFOs to obtain a Clean Water Act permit. In addition, the CAFO permit rule has large gaps that leave tons of CAFO manure and other waste unregulated. The biggest of many flaws is that waste applied on land that is not under the control of the CAFO operator is not subject to the permit’s nutrient management plan. In addition, EPA omitted from the permit controls over land application of heavy metals, antibiotics, pathogens, growth hormones and other substances commonly found in CAFO waste.
EPA’s proposed regulation was already very weak, with EPA proposing to require CAFOs to submit information on only 5 out of 14 items addressed in the settlement, including:
- Type of facility
- Number and type(s) of animals
- Whether the CAFO land applies CAFO waste
- Available acreage for land application
- Whether the CAFO has a NPDES permit
EPA proposed to omit the following information request by the environmental plaintiffs:
- Name and address of the owner and operator
- If a contract operation, the name of the vertical integrator
- Location (longitude and latitude) of the operation
- Type and capacity of manure storage
- Quantity of manure, process wastewater and litter generated by the CAFO
- If the CAFO land applies, whether it implements a nutrient management plan for land application
- If the CAFO land applies, whether it employs nutrient management practices and keeps records on site consistent with the CAFO permit regulations
- If the CAFO does not land apply, alternative uses of manure, litter, and/or wastewater
- Whether the CAFO transfers manure off-site, and if so, quantity transferred to recipients of transferred manure
In addition, EPA wanted to collect the information only in “focus watersheds” which are already known to have water quality degraded by CAFO pollution. This approach would ignore watersheds where sources of pollution were not known and watersheds where inadequate CAFO waste handling could cause future impairments.
In this week’s notice that EPA was withdrawing the reporting rule altogether, the agency concluded that it could rely on information on CAFOs from the states and other sources. This conclusion, however, is belied by numerous reports and statements from EPA regions and state regulators.
For example, this month EPA Region 7 released a report on a preliminary investigation of the Clean Water Act permit program in Iowa that severely criticized the state program. EPA prepared the report in response to a petition submitted by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Program asking that EPA withdraw the authority granted to the state because of Iowa’s failure to adequately implement and enforce Clean Water Act requirements. The EPA report concluded, among other problems, that Iowa had failed to conduct comprehensive inspections to determine if unpermitted CAFOs required Clean Water Act permits. In addition, EPA found that land application setbacks were not sufficient and were not included in CAFO nutrient management plans.
In Wisconsin, an official with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stated that gathering information such as land application of manure on individual farms and ensuring that it is up to date would be a significant burden to the state. He noted that the state would gladly provide the EPA with the information it has on CAFOs, but does not want to gather additional information. In Indiana, state inspectors inspect once every five years an estimated 1,600 operations. Three inspector positions are vacant. It is clear that these states and others are not doing a sufficient job of overseeing CAFOs.
The CAFO sector’s opposition to the reporting requirement focused on the fact that information gathered by EPA under Section 308 of the Clean Water Act is made available to the public. This public access could give communities and rural residents better information about CAFOs as a source of water pollution, allowing them to take actions to protect water resources under the citizen suit provisions of the Clean Water Act. By declining to use its full powers to gather information from CAFOs, the EPA is putting blinders on itself and denying the public access to critical information about CAFO pollution. This action continues a long, sad history of EPA ducking its clear responsibility to ensure that CAFOs are adequately regulated under the Clean Water Act.
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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