Update on EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Enforcement | Region 10 | US EPA

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Update on EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Enforcement

Nov. 14, 2000

What is the environmental issue?
With an estimated 1.5 million head of cattle in Oregon, dairy and beef operations produce at least 7.5 million tons of manure per year that must be accounted for and kept out of Oregon’s waters. Animal waste in water represents an environmental issue and a human health issue. For instance, animal waste is high in nutrients. When it enters a water body oxygen can be depleted preventing the break down of nutrients which can impact fish survival rates. Animal waste can also contain bacteria and viruses that are harmful to humans, including E. Coli and Salmonella. Additionally, if cattle are allowed into streams, they can trample the stream side vegetation which reduces shade cover and increases water temperature. It also increases erosion, i.e., sediment deposition, which can severely impact the aquatic biota. A number of trout and salmon species found in Oregon are listed or have been proposed for listing on the Endangered Species List.

What is the issue and why is it controversial?
The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, however there remain some cases where CAFO owners have done little or nothing to keep animal waste from Oregon waters. CAFOs are defined as point sources under the NPDES program, and a discharge of animal waste to surface waters is illegal. These discharges often result from overflowing waste storage ponds, runoff from holding areas and concrete pads, or from animals having direct access to surface waters. There have been many efforts to educate the CAFO owners by state and EPA regulators, yet violations persist. EPA’s initial efforts began with dairies, and has now included cattle feedlots as well as other CAFO operations, i.e., hog farms, race tracks, etc.

The direct involvement of EPA in the regulation of CAFOs in Oregon is not new. In fact, EPA has been involved in enforcing against dairy operations since 1994. The controversy that exists at this time is the result of EPA expanding enforcement beyond the Oregon dairy industry, such as beef cattle operations, which is a segment of the Oregon CAFO population that has received limited compliance inspections over the last several years, even though they have been subject to the regulations since 1972. During the past year, EPA directed some attention toward feedlots in eastern Oregon.

What are EPA’s objectives in taking federal enforcement actions against CAFOs in Oregon?
There are five objectives:
  1. Reduce the environmental and public health threat.
  2. Level the playing field among CAFOs by eliminating the economic advantage that violators have enjoyed over those who have invested capital to comply with the law.
  3. Encourage compliance and deter others from violating the law through education and public notice of penalties, thus supporting local efforts.
  4. Encourage the State of Oregon to reassume its lead role in CAFO enforcement.
  5. Use the authorities of the Clean Water Act as part of the salmon restoration efforts. EPA is required by law to use these authorities under Section 7(a)1 of the Endangered Species Act.

What exactly is a CAFO?
A CAFO under EPA regulations is an operation that confines animals for at least 45 days in a year, and the confinement area is devoid of vegetation. Coverage under the law may vary with the type of animals confined.

Why is EPA doing this instead of the State of Oregon?
In Oregon, the Department of Agriculture(ODOA), not the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), is responsible for CAFO enforcement. In short, Oregon DEQ did not submit its federal CAFO program to EPA for approval prior to delegating it’s NPDES authority to the ODOA. As such, Oregon’s current CAFO program is deficient in some respects because Oregon’s law on inspections and enforcement is less stringent than EPA’s. Even if Oregon were to correct the deficiencies in the CAFO program, EPA would still have a duty under the CWA to oversee state CAFO program implementation.

What has EPA done to educate the CAFO owners before enforcement actions were taken?
The EPA has been directly involved in the regulation of Oregon CAFOs since 1994. In that time, EPA has been involved in several activities which have resulted in the education of CAFO owners. These activities include the following:

1. Fact sheets, describing the EPA CAFO requirements and enforcement strategy, mailed annually to producers, assistance providers (NRCS), and industry associations such as the Oregon Dairy Association and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
2. Public meetings to discuss EPA requirements and enforcement strategy. These meetings were held in 1999-2000 in Pendleton, LaGrande, Enterprise, Baker City, Portland, Tillamook, Boise, and Tri-cities which were attended by both producers and assistance providers.
3. Several meetings with assistance providers (e.g. local conservation districts) to discuss EPA requirements and enforcement strategy.
4. Public notice of EPA enforcement actions against CAFO operations in Region 10.

What type of CAFO operations are being enforced against?
EPA is targeting the worst cases first. In the cases filed to date, we have taken enforcement actions against operations with the confinement areas literally in the stream or where streams run directly through the confinement area with no attempt to keep manure out of the water and sites that have a direct discharge of waste to surface waters. Penalty assessments in Oregon have ranged from $11,000 to $50,000.

Some have criticized EPA’s enforcement presence as undermining local efforts to correct CAFO problems. Is this true?
EPA supports voluntary and community efforts to correct these problems, and EPA has supported many of these efforts with grant funds and our people in the field. However, it is now the inspection year 2000-2001, and there remain some recalcitrant operators who seem to need an incentive to do what others have done without enforcement actions being filed against them. In the long term, we expect our enforcement efforts to encourage CAFO owners to work with local groups and state regulators to fix problems without the need for EPA enforcement actions.

While EPA has taken some criticism for filing federal enforcement actions, our staff is often told informally that the operations we have enforced against are the bad actors, and that our actions are helpful.

Are all CAFOs in violation of the Clean Water Act?
No! Many if not most CAFO operations work in such a way as to prevent manure from reaching surface waters. If manure from CAFOs do not reach surface waters, there is not a violation of the NPDES regulations. Also, the CAFO regulations do not cover open grazing areas/facilities. Again, EPA is targeting the recalcitrant operations.

For additional information contact:
Bub Loiselle, Manager, NPDES Compliance Unit at (206) 553-6901
David Domingo, CAFO Coordinator at (206) 553-0531

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URL: http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/enforce.nsf/NPDES/Update+on+EPA’s+Concentrated+Animal+Feeding+Operation+(CAFO)

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