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EPA has proposed strict new controls to protect public health and the environment from one of the nations leading causes of water pollution -- animal wastes from large, industrial feedlot operations.
EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, J. Charles Fox, said, "Wastes from large factory farms are among the greatest threats to our nations waters and drinking water supplies. Today, EPA is taking action to protect public health and the environment by significantly controlling pollution from animal feeding operations."
The livestock industry has undergone dramatic changes in the past 20 years, consolidating scattered, smaller facilities into fewer but vastly larger feeding operations that result in greater and more concentrated generation of wastes. An estimated 376,000 large and small livestock operations that confine animals generate approximately 128 billion pounds of manure each year. Typically these facilities confine beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and chickens.
Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of surveyed waters are too polluted for fishing or swimming. Some 60 percent of river pollution comes from all kinds of agricultural runoff, including livestock operations. Pollution from livestock is associated with many types of waterborne disease, as well as problems like pfiesteria outbreaks which have plagued the Chesapeake Bay, red tides, algae blooms, and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The new requirements would apply to as many as 39,000 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the country. Today, only an estimated 2,500 large and small livestock operations have enforceable permits under the Clean Water Act. A CAFO is currently defined as having 1,000 or more cattle or comparable "animal units" of other livestock. Smaller operations may also be CAFOs if they are a threat to water quality. EPA today is co-proposing two options for a new CAFO definition. One proposed definition could include livestock facilities with more than 500 cattle or other animal units. The other proposal would require operations with 3001,000 cattle to have a permit if meet certain risk-based conditions.
In addition to stricter permitting requirements, the proposal includes several new strict controls: 1) poultry, veal, and swine operations would be required to prevent all discharges from their waste storage pits and lagoons where wastes are collected; 2) the proposal eliminates potential exemptions from permits presently used in some states; as a result, EPA expects that all large livestock operations will now have to acquire permits; 3) under this proposal, EPA and the states will issue co-permits for corporations and contract growers to ensure financial resources exist to meet environmental requirements; 4) the spreading of manure on the land owned by livestock facilities would be limited to protect water ways.
In March l999, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations, in response to public concern about contamination of rivers, lakes, streams, coastal waters and ground water from livestock manure. Todays proposal is an important step in that strategy.
EPA will take public comment for 120 days and will hold public meetings around the country on todays proposal. Additional information is available on EPAs Office of Water web site at: http://www.epa.gov/owm/afo.htm .