The Bush administration will delay finalizing water pollution limits on large confined animal feeding operations to give agricultural groups more time to analyze the costs.

The delay in the CAFO rules, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, comes at a time when the Bush administration is being criticized by green groups for rolling back other environmental protection rules for arsenic in drinking water, mining waste and roadbuilding in forests.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman says in a statement the agency's extension to July 30 would give farm organizations, livestock groups and others extra time to submit their recommendations on a proposal to regulate manure generated by large livestock operations. The comment period was scheduled to end next month.

On Jan. 12, the outgoing Clinton administration proposed rules under the Clean Water Act to limit pollution from animal feeding operations having at least 1,000 cattle or 2,500 hogs. The proposed rule would require many U.S. livestock producers to obtain discharge permits and submit manure management plans for their operations.

EPA estimates that the entire U.S. livestock industry – including small farmers with just a few animals – generate a total of 128 billion pounds of manure annually.

Farm groups criticized the proposed EPA rule as costly and unworkable.

"This is a very long and complex rule, with far-reaching and costly ramifications for every livestock producer regardless of where they live and what size operation they have," says Steven Cohen, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council.

The EPA proposal estimates the new rules would cost affected cattle ranchers up to $1.22 million annually, and pork producers up to $115,500 each year, depending on whether farmers had cropland to spread some of the manure on. Farmers with large dairy, chicken or turkey operations would face lower estimated costs to comply with the rule, according to EPA.

NPPC has offered environmental programs and assistance to its members for several years. Cohen says the group did not oppose EPA regulating manure runoff but wants to make sure any final rules are realistic and based on science.

Environmental groups say stricter limits are needed to prevent animal manure from contaminating streams and underground water supplies.

Once the public comment period ends on July 30, the EPA will spend several months deciding whether to finalize the rule as proposed by the Clinton administration or make changes to it.

Reuters