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Water Pollution: Court Rules Against EPA on CAFO Discharges in Big Win for Farm Groups

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A federal court ruled yesterday that U.S. EPA cannot require a West Virginia poultry operation to obtain a Clean Water Act permit for its stormwater in what farm groups are calling a major victory.

Judge John Bailey in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia found that discharges from Lois Alt's farm in Old Fields, W.Va., were covered by a Clean Water Act exemption for agricultural stormwater.

"Common sense and plain English lead to the inescapable conclusion that Ms. Alt's poultry operation is 'agricultural' in nature," Bailey wrote, "and that the precipitation-caused runoff from her farmyard is 'stormwater.'"

The case, Alt v. EPA, had been closely watched by both agricultural interests and environmentalists. Farm groups feared that a favorable ruling for EPA would open concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to permitting requirements for stormwater discharges. The West Virginia Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation joined the lawsuit on behalf of Alt.

Environmental groups that intervened on behalf of EPA said the decision yesterday instead puts the Chesapeake Bay and other waters of the United States in danger of pollution from animal agriculture operations.

"We are disappointed in the court's ruling and are deeply concerned that the ruling will make it more difficult to restore the health of waterways across the country, including the Chesapeake Bay," Potomac Riverkeeper, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, and Earthjustice said in a joint statement.  
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