In a dramatic departure from the Obama administration’s promise to pursue better protections of our waters from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have required the most basic reporting from these operations—information that would have given the EPA the information necessary to monitor and address CAFO pollution.
The “CAFO Inventory Rule,” officially known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Reporting Rule, would have required CAFOs to provide to the EPA fundamental information such as their locations and numbers of animals. Such information is essential for adequate monitoring, prevention, and, when appropriate, identification of the threats that CAFO manure poses. Without it, the EPA cannot assist federal agencies in developing policies, technical assistance programs, and farm support initiatives that protect water quality.
The EPA estimates that less than half of all CAFOs currently have permits under the Clean Water Act. Unlike many other industrial operations, CAFOs are largely unregulated. In part, because it has failed to establish basic record-keeping and reporting practices, the EPA cannot provide any assurance to the American public that our waterways are protected from manure mismanagement.
CAFOs are one of the major contributors to water pollution. Such operations often confine thousands of animals and generate massive quantities of waste, which may contain a variety of pollutants, including heavy metals, hormones, antibiotic residues, and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. U.S. government statistics indicate that the sources of drinking water for an estimated 43 percent of the U.S. population have experienced pathogen contamination associated with industrial animal agriculture. Yet the EPA knows surprisingly little about where these operations are or how their waste is managed.
Despite this threat to the environment, the administration appears to have abandoned this most basic effort to protect U.S. waters from CAFOs.
Click here to see the Pew Environment Group’s comments on the rule.