WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia has ruled that the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has a right to join in a lawsuit over the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate poultry and livestock farms under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
In July, AFBF asked for permission to join on the side of West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt, who brought suit to challenge an EPA order demanding that she obtain a CWA discharge permit for stormwater runoff from her farmyard. The West Virginia Farm Bureau has also joined the lawsuit. EPA aggressively opposed the Farm Bureaus’ participation.
“The court clearly recognizes the importance of this case for thousands of other livestock and poultry farmers threatened by EPA’s unlawful restriction of the agricultural stormwater exemption,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The court flatly rejected EPA’s argument that other farmers facing similar EPA demands should be forced to file their own lawsuits. We are pleased that Farm Bureau will be allowed to challenge EPA’s actions on behalf of all our farmer and rancher members,” he added.
Alt sued EPA in June after the agency ordered her to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit. EPA’s order threatens Alt with $37,500 in fines for each time stormwater comes into contact with dust, feathers or dander on the ground outside of her poultry houses, or small amounts of manure that may be present in the farmyard as a result of normal poultry farming operations. EPA also seeks separate fines if Alt fails to apply for an NPDES permit.
According to AFBF’s intervention papers, EPA’s order to Alt represents the latest EPA attempt to regulate non-discharging farmers – this time by unlawfully narrowing the statutory exemption for “agricultural stormwater discharges.” EPA has claimed here that the agricultural stormwater exemption does not apply to larger farms that qualify as concentrated animal feeding operations, except for certain “land application areas” where crops are grown.
According to Judge John Preston Bailey, AFBF and WVFB demonstrated that a ruling upholding EPA’s order would harm numerous other farmers and ranchers. Under EPA’s reasoning, Bailey stated, “virtually every large [CAFO] would likely have an obligation to obtain a federally mandated permit if it rains enough in their area to wash manure and dust particles off their land and eventually into a jurisdictional water.”
In allowing AFBF’s participation, Judge Bailey noted that AFBF is a “veteran advocate in the courts on issues related to CWA permit requirements for CAFOs.” Stallman agreed and noted, “We are proud of our past efforts on behalf farmers and ranchers, and we are honored that the court recognizes that we bring something useful to the table.”