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EPA Can't Regulate Livestock Farms it Can't Find

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming & Food Safety page.

CHICAGO - The report to Congress was blunt: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had failed to regulate pollution from the nation's livestock farms , many capable of generating more waste than some cities , because it lacked information as basic as how many farms even existed.

Four years after the U.S. Government Accountability Office raised concerns and 40 years after the Clean Water Act gave the EPA the authority to protect the nation's waterways, the agency still doesn't know the location of many livestock farms, let alone how much manure they generate or how the waste is handled, because most of that information is kept by various state and/or local agencies , or not collected at all.

At the same time, water-quality experts throughout the country cite livestock waste as a major contributor to water-quality problems, including in areas like the Chesapeake Bay, where manure runoff is believed responsible for up to one-fourth of phosphorus, which stimulates algae growth. If the EPA knew all the sources of that waste, it might be easier to stop it, environmentalists say.

So they were flabbergasted when the EPA recently decided against adopting a rule that would require livestock operators to provide the agency with information, opting instead to try to cobble it together from other state, local and federal sources , a decision they said puts the EPA right back where it started.

"It's been (decades) since we first started regulating them and we're not at a point where we know where they're at?" said Kelly Foster, senior attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, one of several environmental groups that sued the EPA to get it to start collecting information on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

It's not unusual for CAFOs to have thousands of cattle, tens of thousands of hogs or millions of chickens in one location. The animals' waste is often stored in underground pits or outdoor lagoons until it's spread as fertilizer on cropland, ideally in a manner that avoids runoff into waterways. But pollution from faulty manure storage or runoff happens often enough to generate complaints, and environmentalists suspect many more problems go undetected.


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