Pew Comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's CAFO Inventory Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency recently requested public comments on a proposed rule (PDF) regarding the information the agency will collect from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This important rule may establish expanded reporting requirements for CAFO owners and operators, which will enhance transparency and accountability, and result in improved environmental management. The Pew Environment Group provided comments (PDF) on the rule to the EPA, urging the agency to collect key information that will better enable the government and the public to monitor and address water pollution caused by CAFO waste. The substance of our comments is summarized here:

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are a significant source of water pollution, such as pathogens, overdoses of nutrients that result in reduced oxygen levels, certain heavy metals, hormones, and antibiotic residues.

Addressing this problem is made more difficult since few CAFO operations hold permits under the Clean Water Act, or follow otherwise common record-keeping and reporting practices. Consequently, the EPA currently lacks the types of site-specific information on CAFOs needed to monitor and address CAFO pollution. Notably, in most cases, this type of information is required and readily available for other industries with pollution potential under the Clean Water Act.

In response to the lack of information available related to CAFOs, the EPA has proposed a CAFO Inventory Rule. The Pew Environment Group contends that:

  • the EPA's Inventory Rule is necessary to address glaring information gap with CAFOs;
  • the EPA has the authority to collect information from CAFOs under section 308 of the Clean Water Act;
  • integrators (animal processors) must be required to submit information as part of the Inventory Rule;
  • the EPA should require more frequent data submission from all CAFOs;
  • the information the EPA proposes to collect—such as number and type of animals and facility location—is simple and straightforward, and reporting should pose no burden ; and
  • the EPA should make all information collected under the CAFO Inventory Rule available to the public.

An accurate and up-to-date inventory of pollution sources is fundamental to the success of any environmental management program, and the EPA and other federal agencies have a long history of successfully carrying out inventories under environmental statutes. The EPA's proposed CAFO Inventory Rule follows this model of successful environmental management programs.

Recommendations (partial list):

The current draft of the proposed rule fails to require disclosure of the name and address of integrators involved in CAFO contract operations. We maintain that under current regulations these integrators share liability for waste handling with farms/growers. Therefore, requiring this information is vital to ensuring the Clean Water Act's goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of waters of the United States.

The EPA should reject the “Option Two” language in the proposed rule. While the proposed Option One language would require data collection from all CAFOs across the country, Option Two would obligate the EPA to first identify “focus” areas where the need for information is considered most important and then require data submission only from CAFOs in these focus areas. Option Two would dramatically delay data collection since it requires the EPA to start the process backwards by first answering the questions about compliance and water quality impairments and threats….information that the data collection rule is intended to address.

In addition, the EPA should collect more information from CAFO operators than proposed. The current proposal would require CAFOs to submit information on the number of animals managed, but would not require submission of any estimates on the quantity of manure produced and managed. We also believe that information on storage methods and capacity is fundamental to reasonable environmental management, and all operations should be readily able to provide this information.

The current proposal calls for the inventory to be updated only once every ten years. This time-frame is far too long to be useful and a shorter interval would not be burdensome. The EPA should conduct a CAFO inventory once every five years.

Lastly, the EPA should make the full database of information collected under the CAFO Inventory Rule available and searchable online.