The EPA has finalized a rule which regulates how concentrated animal feeding operations manage animal waste. EPA says the new regulations will prevent 56 million pounds of phosphorus, 110 million pounds of nitrogen, and 2 billion pounds of sediment from entering U.S. streams, lakes, and other waters annually.

This is the first time EPA has required submission of a nutrient management plan for manure as part of a Clean Water Act permit application.

“EPA’s new regulation sets a strong national standard for pollution prevention and environmental protection, while maintaining our country’s economic and agricultural competitiveness,” says EPA’s Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for Water. “This clean water rule strengthens environmental safeguards by embracing a zero discharge standard and requiring site-specific management plans to prevent runoff of excess nutrients into our nation’s waters.”

Previous rules required a CAFO operator to use a nutrient management plan for controlling manure. The new regulation builds on that by requiring the NMP to be submitted with the permit application.

“The CAFO regulation issued today is a tough but fair rule and sets a standard that the U.S. pork industry has been and will continue living up to,” says Randy Spronk, National Pork Producers Council environment committee chairman. “Pork producers are ready to comply with the new regulation.” The new rule is the product of more than 10 years of work to overhaul the federal Clean Water Act rules applicable to livestock operations.

The new regulation requires National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits only for CAFOs that discharge or propose to do so. The new rule effectively sets a “zero-discharge” standard for all livestock operations. Non-permitted operations must use sound management practices to avoid all discharges or face stiff penalties. Permit holders, likewise, must use similar practices to meet the zero-discharge standard. Violations of the new CAFO rule carry penalties of up to $32,500 a day.

 The regulation also requires that an owner or operator of a CAFO that actually discharges to streams, lakes, and other waters must apply for a permit under the Clean Water Act. If a farmer designs, constructs, operates and maintains their facility such that a discharge will occur, a permit is needed. EPA is also providing an opportunity for CAFO operators who do not discharge or propose to discharge to show their commitment to pollution prevention by obtaining certification as zero dischargers.

In addition, the final rule includes technical clarifications regarding water quality-based effluent limitations and use of best management practices to meet zero discharge requirements, as well as affirming the 2003 rule requirement for reducing fecal coliform through the use of best conventional technology.

“Looking back to where we were in federal policy in 1998, when this all started, through the 2001 proposed rule, the 2003 final rule, a 2005 federal court decision and now this 2008 final rule, EPA is making sweeping policy changes that affect all aspects of pork operations and water quality,” Spronk said.

EPA worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the development of the rule and will work closely with states during implementation. The rule deadline for newly defined facilities to apply for permits is Feb. 27, 2009.

EPA has been regulating CAFOs for more than 30 years. The final rule responds to a Feb. 2005 federal court decision that upheld most of the agency’s 2003 rule, but directed further action or clarification on some portions.

Before the 2003 rulemaking, most CAFOs were not liable under the Clean Water Act for discharges from their operations, but now they are. Prior to 2003, the land application of manure for crop production was not regulated under federal law; now it is.

“With or without a permit, swine operations that are not well managed and have discharges are facing severe penalties,” said Michael Formica, NPPC environmental policy counsel. “These rules really raise the water quality bar for us, but despite this challenge, producers are going to make this rule work.”

For information on the concentrated animal feeding operation rule, click here.

To listen to an audio interview from AgriTalk, click here.

Source: EPA, National Pork Producers Council