Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Senate Hearing On CAFO Impacts

Sep 6: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing entitled, "An Examination of the Potential Human Health, Water Quality, and Other Impacts of the Confined Animal Feeding Operation Industry." [Note: the acronym CAFO normally refers to the term "Concentrated" Animal Feeding Operation, not "Confined."] Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Associate Director for Water, U.S. Geological Survey; Assistant Administrator for Water, U.S. EPA; Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma; President of the National Association of Conservation Districts; Loudoun County Sanitation Authority, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies; Utah Department of Agriculture and Food; Air Quality Bureau Iowa Department of Natural Resources, National Association of Clean Air Agencies; American Farm Bureau Federation; Western Organization of Resource Councils and Dakota Rural Action; Oklahoma State University; North Carolina Community Representative.

Senator Boxer opened the meeting with a statement indicating, "CAFOs are industrialized animal production facilities, including some that can hold more than 1 million animals. I want to ensure that there is a clear picture of the significant environmental and health issues that stem from these facilities. There is currently a proposal that would exempt CAFOs from important environmental and public health safeguards -- in particular from the public reporting or “right to know” provisions of the Superfund law. The proposal also would eliminate provisions that ensure polluters pay to cleanup up their mess. People deserve to have a clear understanding of the environmental threats in their communities so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their families... CAFOs can create significant air pollution, including foul odors, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide. CAFOs’ air pollution can exceed the amounts emitted by industrial facilities... Well managed agricultural operations can avoid serious environmental and public health consequences."

Ranking Member, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivered a statement saying, "Oklahoma is among the states with the most concentrated animal feeding operations. Concerns have been raised about the possible environmental impacts of these facilities, particularly the impact they have on water supplies... We can have clean water and an active agriculture industry but we cannot have one at the expense of the other. I have been aggressive in assisting water systems comply with federal laws however, any effort to further regulate farms must consider the critical economic and employment benefits provided by the nation’s farms... I am disappointed that the Chairwoman refused to allow the Department of Agriculture to testify. USDA oversees a variety of programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to which so many farmers turn for compliance assistance... The prospect of declaring animal manure a hazardous waste and thus regulating under CERCLA deeply concerns me. If animal manure is found to be a hazardous waste, then virtually every farm operation in the country could be exposed to liabilities and penalties under this act."

Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for Water at U.S. EPA testified that, nationally, there are an estimated 1.3 million farms with livestock. About 238,000 of these farms are considered animal feeding operations (AFOs) – agriculture enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confinement... AFOs annually produce more than 500 million tons of animal manure. If properly managed, these operations may minimize environmental impacts and provide valuable byproducts; however, if improperly managed, the manure from these operations can pose substantial risks to the environment and public health. Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) are operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations for at least 45 days/year and vegetation is not present in the confined area (to distinguish it from grazing operations). An operation must meet the definition of an AFO before it can be defined or designated as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)."

Grumbles discussed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision on February 28, 2005, in Waterkeeper Alliance et al. v EPA and said that, "While it upheld the majority of the regulatory provisions, the Court vacated the requirement that all CAFOs with a potential to discharge apply for NPDES permits, and held that only those CAFOs that actually discharge must obtain NPDES permits." In June 2006, EPA proposed targeted revisions specifically to respond to the Court’s ruling in the Waterkeeper case. EPA’s proposed rule would require only those CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge to apply for a permit. The draft final rule is currently undergoing a 90-day interagency review under Executive Order 12866, which began on August 13, 2007. We anticipate that the Administrator would sign the final rule by the end of the calendar year. EPA says the number of CAFOs has grown to approximately 19,000 facilities, and that roughly 8,300 -- or 43% -- of those CAFOs are covered by NPDES permits.

Access the hearing website with links to all testimony and opening statements, webcasts and additional information (click here). [*Water, *Air, *Agriculture]