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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 02:19 pm

Illinois EPA takes hands-off stance toward manure regulation

U.S. EPA investigates lack of state regulation

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has expanded its investigation of the Illinois EPA, according to a group seeking improved regulation of factory farms. The group, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, petitioned the EPA a year ago asking the EPA to formally revoke the IEPA’s authority to issue certain types of permits [see “Plan of action,” June 5, 2008]. The petition alleged that IEPA had failed to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.

After ICCAW representatives met with EPA officials last June, the EPA established a protocol to review the state program, including site visits to two IEPA regional offices and IEPA headquarters. After conducting those visits, EPA expanded its protocol to include more regional offices. ICCAW representatives see this development as a sign that EPA is taking a closer look at their concerns.

“This is good news for us,” says ICCAW attorney Danielle Diamond. “They have made their investigation more intense. I think it’s because of what they’re finding.”

She has also filed a supplement to the group’s original petition, citing more incidents involving factory farms polluting waterways. One is a newly-constructed 10,000-head swine operation in Gladstone, Ill., that leaked liquid waste into a tributary of the Mississippi River, resulting in a fish kill. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of the hog farm, complaining that the leak was caused by a design flaw in the excrement pits. In September, the state obtained a court order requiring repair and monitoring of the excrement holding ponds that leaked, plus three others with the same design.

ICCAW claims that IEPA has an obligation to become involved with concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, before such a damaging discharge occurs. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state agency is responsible for administering the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, through the issuance of permits. IEPA has elected to allow all NPDES permits to expire, and to not issue new ones. Such permits would require monitoring.

Last April, IEPA spokesperson Maggie Carson said that her agency was waiting for direction from the USEPA. Illinois is the only state in the USEPA Region 5 that is taking this stance.

Citizens in Jo Daviess County concerned about the proposed factory dairy farm, Traditions Dairies LLC, have had little luck getting information from the IEPA, due to the lack of a permit for the 5,000-head operation. In a letter to a Jo Daviess County resident, IEPA Director Douglas Scott placed most oversight responsibility with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“Illinois EPA may not require an NPDES permit if the sole discharge is to groundwater,” Scott wrote. “Illinois EPA certainly understands the risks to groundwater that can be posed by manure storage lagoons that are improperly designed or located. This is why we worked very closely with the Illinois Department of Agriculture as they established the design standards for these structures . . . . IDOA has the statutory responsibility to assure that the proposed design and construction meet these requirements.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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