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Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 08:00 am

Feds censure state on farm waste

Report says state fails to regulate manure discharges

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Illinois fails to regulate manure from certain livestock farms, calling on the state to completely revamp its system of oversight or risk losing its enforcement authority.

In a report released in late September, the U.S. EPA says the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has not fully implemented a federally mandated program meant to regulate the discharge of pollutants from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). That means farms that create lots of toxic waste are sometimes allowed to dump or leak pollutants into waterways, killing wildlife and tainting water supplies. The report is the result of an investigation prompted by petitions from two environmental groups, the Environmental Integrity Project and Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water. [See “IEPA fails to regulate factory farms, environmental group says,” Nov. 19, 2009, at illinoistimes.com.]

IEPA oversees the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) in Illinois, part of the federal Clean Water Act which requires CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge waste to apply for a permit. However, the U.S. EPA says the state agency has failed to issue or require permits for most CAFOs, doesn’t properly enforce penalties for violations and often fails to fully investigate citizen complaints about CAFOs, among other issues.

Between 2004 and 2008, between 36 and 59 percent of facilities in IEPA’s investigative annual reports had at least one regulatory violation, many related to discharges of waste.

“However, only a small percentage of Illinois’ estimated 500 Large CAFOs have applied for permits of their own volition,” the report continues.

Permit applications from CAFOs sat untouched by IEPA for as long as 10 years, the report reveals, and some CAFOs that were known to require permits were never required to apply.

While the U.S. EPA warns that the state’s failure to fully implement pollution control measures is grounds for revoking IEPA’s authority on the matter, the report stops short of actually threatening a revocation. Instead, IEPA has been given 30 days to evaluate the report and respond.

IEPA director Doug Scott says the agency has already begun addressing some of the issues raised in the report and the petitions that prompted it. Fourteen permits have been issued in the past year, Scott says, and 43 are under review or on public notice. The agency has issued 30 noncompliance advisories, 25 violation notices, seven notices of intent to pursue legal action and 15 referrals to the Illinois Attorney General for violations at CAFOs, he adds. In some cases, IEPA has had to call on the U.S. EPA for help.

“Illinois EPA has had difficulty in getting applicants to provide required information and since July has asked [the] U.S. EPA … to provide assistance by using its administrative order authority to compel these CAFOs to provide the information in nine cases so far,” Scott says.

IEPA has also contracted with Western Illinois University to create an inventory of CAFOs across the state, he notes, and the agency’s Bureau of Water is reviewing the report and will respond within the 30-day time period set by the U.S. EPA. The agency was already aware of the environmental group’s petition, Scott says, adding that “since then we have made substantial progress with existing staff in permitting, inspections, enforcement, working on the state rule and inventory related to CAFOs .…”

To read the report and accompanying materials, visit epa.gov/region5/illinoiscafo

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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