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Thursday, May 31, 2012 01:06 pm

Manure rules

Livestock farms to pay fees for EPA enforcement

Large livestock farms would have to pay for pollution permits under legislation headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

The Clean Water Funding Fairness Act, which passed through the Illinois House and Senate on May 22, would force factory farms, commonly referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), to pay an annual fee for permits involving the amount of pollution a farm’s animals produce.

Livestock farms are defined as CAFOs if they discharge or intend to discharge animal waste into a water supply. In Illinois, a permit is only required on a livestock farm if the farm intends to discharge waste into a waterway. It’s the responsibility of the operator of the livestock farm to determine if the farm needs to apply for a permit. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said there are around 500 large CAFOs in Illinois, with the majority being hog farms. The 500 large livestock farms are regulated by the IEPA.

The proposed law would split CAFOs into three tiers for permits, based on the amount of livestock a farm has. The first-tier permit will cost $750 for farms having more than 1,000 farm animals, while the second-tier permit will cost $350 for having between 300 and 999 farm animals. The third-tier permit will cost $150 for farms that have fewer than 300 farm animals. In Illinois, only livestock farms that discharge or intend to discharge animal waste into a waterway are required to obtain a permit.  

The federal Clean Water Act requires permits for anyone discharging pollutants such as animal waste into waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows states to watch over the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which is a program that regulates CAFO permits. CAFO permits fall under NPDES regulation.

In 2008, the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water filed a complaint to the USEPA against the IEPA alleging the state agency was not enforcing permits for livestock operations under the NPDES. In 2010, the USEPA concluded that the Illinois EPA was not effectively regulating CAFOs under the Clean Water Act.

Illinois environmental groups including Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Prairie Rivers Network and Environment Illinois came together to draft the bill for permit fees for CAFOs, while Rep. Michael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, was the primary sponsor of the bill.

Danielle Diamond, an attorney for the ICCAW, said if USEPA rescinded Illinois EPA’s authority to oversee CAFOs, it would mean the state also couldn’t regulate industries under the Clean Water Act.

“After the U.S. EPA’s investigation, they concluded that the state was failing to enforce the Clean Water Act against CAFOs,” Diamond said. “What was hanging over the head of the Illinois EPA was that if they didn’t bring their CAFOs program into compliance, that could lead to all Illinois industries losing their ability to issue permits under the Clean Water Act, which the federal EPA would then take over.”

 So began the process of negotiating a bill that would address issues of CAFOs discharging pollution into Illinois water, while also providing the IEPA with the finances to enforce the regulations.   

Tim Maiers, director of industry and public relations for the Illinois Pork Producers, said negotiations for the bill began over a year ago with the initial bill being rejected due to the proposed amount of fees, originally around $1,800, and the need for clarification of what the bill
regulates.

 “By working and negotiating with everyone we were able to conclude that the permit will only be required if a livestock farm is discharging into water,” Maiers said.

Maggie Carson, spokeswoman for the IEPA, said the bill will help IEPA enforce CAFO regulations by providing funding for the agency’s permit process.

“This bill will help by providing the resources needed for inspections and also the permitting side of NPDES,” Carson said.

John Cross, legislative liaison for the IEPA, said one of the biggest problems that the IEPA faced while trying to enforce permits for CAFOs was funding.

“We basically had to use funds from all different programs within the agency,” Cross said.     

Glynnis Collins, executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network, said the passage of the bill is a step in the right direction.

“This bill is a bit of a baby step in the right direction,” Collins said. “However, this bill is the first step towards bigger changes in accountability for the industry and decreasing water pollution in Illinois.”

The bill passed the House with a vote of 91-14 and passed the Senate with a vote of 42-15. It now awaits Quinn’s signature to become law.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.
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