230+ organizations call on President Obama to protect America’s waterways from livestock waste

The Iowa Environmental Council has joined with more than 230 organizations from 30 states to urge President Obama to protect our nation’s waterways from animal waste produced by industrial livestock operations.

Food animals in the United States generate up to 1 billion tons of waste every year, which often contains nutrients, pathogens, sediment, antibiotics, and metals such as copper or arsenic. That waste contaminates some of our most prized waterways, such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Mississippi River, as well as streams, estuaries and wells. It also can taint drinking water, kill fish, and close beaches, harming human health and local economies.

Read the letter from human health, environmental, faith-based, farming, community, animal protection, sporting, environmental justice, and student groups after the jump.

July 25, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Environmental Protection Agency – CAFO Regulations Revisions Rule

Dear President Obama:

As a candidate for President and during the transition, you promised to control pollution from industrial livestock operations. Now, four and a half years later, these facilities are still poorly understood and their pollution is inadequately controlled. The people who live near and share waterways with these facilities are depending on your administration to act. Therefore, on behalf of the 236 undersigned organizations, we are writing to urge you to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly strengthen the current permitting requirements and effluent limitation guidelines for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, under the Clean Water Act rules. We would like to underscore the need and urgency for real improvements to safeguard America’s waterways, including broadening the scope of the number and size of CAFOs that fall under the permitting structure.

As you know, CAFOs generate millions of tons of animal waste every year that can impair waterways with pollutants dangerous to human health and the environment. The EPA’s own estimates indicate that animal confinement facilities generate three times as much waste as people do nationwide, but these factory farms lack treatment facilities even remotely comparable to those that treat human sewage. As a result, many operations deliver pollutant loadings – chronically and during storm events – that have contributed to the impairment of rivers, streams, and lakes across the country.

Litigation over the last major CAFO Rule revision in 2008 (73 Fed. Reg. 70,418) created what is effectively a “catch me if you can” approach to permitting operations. These issues can only be addressed by the EPA correcting the deficiencies and constructing a rule that protects our waterways by bringing more facilities into the permit program and enhances current pollution control standards.

In 1972, Congress recognized the potential threat of industrialized agriculture and acted to identify CAFOs as “point sources” under the CWA. That action gave the Agency the legal backing for controlling pollution associated with the waste generated by these facilities, and the EPA retains such authority today despite the court setbacks. Consistent with these decisions, the EPA and states may reasonably conclude that any discharge from a CAFO – including from the land application area – is not exempted “agricultural stormwater”, and should be included as a determining factor in whether a CAFO needs a permit. Similarly, the EPA may require CAFOs, as “point sources” under the CWA, to submit detailed information about their operations so that water pollution control officials and concerned citizens can identify discharging facilities more readily and bring them into the permit program.

Permits are critical to ensuring careful review of local water resource vulnerabilities near CAFOs and the adequacy of facilities’ manure management practices. Unfortunately, however, the current regulations have not functioned as anticipated, and according to the Agency’s own estimates, almost 60 percent of CAFOs do not yet operate under NPDES permits.

To help ensure that regional and state water NPDES permitting authorities have sufficient tools to reduce discharges of manure from these operations, the EPA must restructure the current CAFO rule to correct regulatory deficiencies and confusion. The changes we seek include:

  1. A narrowed definition of “agricultural stormwater” that ensures that more runoff of land applied manure is regulated under Clean Water Act permits.
  2. Lower size thresholds to ensure that more facilities are considered Large CAFOs.
  3. Increased oversight and control of CAFO generated manure that is transported and applied away from the CAFO.
  4. Explicit recognition that integrators and meat processors that make management decisions about CAFO operations are required to obtain NPDES permits for discharges under the Act.
  5. Strengthened requirements for nutrient management plans and other pollution control requirements, such as a clear prohibition on the application of manure to frozen ground.
  6. Enhanced transparency of permit records and additional water quality monitoring and reporting requirements.

A revised CAFO rule that contains the elements above will help to safeguard the nation’s waters from discharges of untreated livestock waste.

Thank you for considering our views and we look forward to the proposed rulemaking.

Sincerely,

View the list of organizations signing this letter here.

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