In late May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promised to pay closer attention to all the factory farm manure that often winds up in our waterways. As a result of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, charging that the agency needs to better monitor the livestock industry, the EPA agreed to propose a new rule to curb manure runoff, which poses a threat to sea animals as well as to human health.
Yes, it took a lawsuit to convince the EPA to at least pledge to do something about the s*** in our water. The agency has long been criticized for allowing concentrated animal feeding operations to pollute our waterways, and they’ve promised to curb factory farm runoff before–by allowing factory farm operations to police themselves.
Will this time be any different?
Judging by the EPA’s “new rule,” which is supposed to be proposed by May 25, 2011, and finalized by May 25, 2012, it doesn’t seem that way. The EPA again plans to rely on factory farms to provide the data they need—every five years. The farms will be expected to disclose information on their manure storage facilities, the amount of manure generated at the farm, and how the “excess manure” is disposed of, among other things.
In other words, they’re still planning to let the fox guard the henhouse.
However, there have been a couple of somewhat encouraging signs since the EPA pledged to better monitor factory farm pollution. Early this month, the EPA publicly ordered two Virginia farms, which the agency inspected in April, to stop discharging waste into the Shenandoah River –at least without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, as required by the Clean Water Act.
One farm, Turley Creek Farms, which confines approximately 100,000 chickens, was improperly storing large piles of uncovered chicken manure, and the EPA found evidence that “pollutants, including nitrogen and phosphorus, were discharged into Turley Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.” The other farm, Windcrest Associates LLC, which confines approximately 250 mature dairy cows, 275 heifers, and 22,800 turkeys, was also discharging nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from animal manure into a tributary of the Shenandoah River and into the river itself.
Both farms, which are located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, were ordered to cease discharging pollutants into the water until after they obtain a Clean Water Act Discharge permit; and submit a compliance plan detailing their plans to comply with the Clean Water Act.
Now, I’m hardly thrilled that these and other farms can literally dump crap into our rivers as long as they get a permit, but, given the EPA’s track record, I’m glad the agency is at least doing something. Only time will tell if it will last—and if the EPA’s actions will actually get tougher. I hope so, but frankly, I have more faith in people like Lynn Henning, the Goldman Environmental Prize-winner who gathers water samples and uses aerial photography to help hold factory farms accountable for mucking up our rivers and streams.
But hopefully the EPA’s proposed rule, combined with Ms. Henning’s efforts, and the United Nations’ call for people to move toward a vegan diet in order to reduce pollution, curb climate change, and stop forest destruction, will make a difference for our planet, our health, and animals.
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