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Wednesday, April 9, 2008 02:20 pm

Land of stinkin’

Report underscores lack of regulation of factory farms

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An estimated 500 large factory farms are being allowed to operate and possibly pollute with virtually no oversight from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, according to legal pleadings filed last month by a statewide watchdog group. In a petition filed March 27, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to formally revoke the IEPA’s authority to issue permits for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System on the grounds that the IEPA has failed to properly enforce the federal Clean Water Act. The IEPA doesn’t know or track the locations of most confined-animal feeding operations and cannot determine which CAFOs discharge animal waste into water — an activity that would require a NPDES permit. The 40-or-so permits that the IEPA has issued in the past have been allowed to expire, and new applications have not been approved, according to the petition: “As a result, not one facility in the State has an active NPDES permit.”
NPDES permits would trigger inspection and reporting requirements that would allow state authorities and the public to monitor the operations of factory farms, where hundreds or thousands of hogs are typically housed in confined areas while being raised for market. An active permit would allow the IEPA to determine whether such a facility was properly disposing of massive quantities of animal waste. Without active permits, the IEPA simply responds to complaints. The ICCAW claims that this problem, while not unique to Illinois, is of greater concern here than in most other states because Illinois has the fourth-largest concentration of factory hog farms of any state. Some 70 to 85 percent of the state’s lake acreage, rivers, and streams are impaired by agricultural waste, and manure spills have been blamed for 22 fish kills in the past decade, according to the petition. In a statement issued in response to the ICCAW, EPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson says that her agency is waiting on direction from above: “While we await a decision from the USEPA as to which facilities should get permits under NPDES, the IEPA is directing its resources to responding to complaints of discharge and acting to eliminate discharge to the environment. We also enforce against the facilities as needed, through compliance commitment agreements and other legal actions. When the revised CAFO rule is finalized, the IEPA will direct additional resources to permit program activities. Until that time the IEPA is focusing its resources on stopping the active discharge from facilities, limiting the harm to the environment and pursuing permits for actively discharging facilities.”
Carson also says that the ICCAW — a statewide coalition of about 70 family farmers and rural residents living near CAFOs — got some facts wrong in its 14-page petition, though she declines to identify those errors. “The technical staff in the IEPA’s Bureau of Water has identified some inaccuracies,” Carson says. “We have to go back and do this with a certain amount of scrutiny and a certain amount of detail to be able to respond to some of these statements. This is a legal document, and we want to treat it as such.”
However, one of the attorneys who drafted the petition says the document was based on an article previously published in the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, which the agency let stand without comment. Danielle Diamond, the attorney who wrote the article and the petition, says IEPA representatives also didn’t dispute the article when questioned about it at a public meeting in October 2006. Diamond also says the IEPA’s decision to neglect NPDES permitting while awaiting EPA clarifications make this state stand out among the five states in EPARegion 5. “Illinois is the only state in Region 5 that is not regulating CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge with NPDES permits,” she says.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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