The EPA has proposed two significantly different options for how confined animal feeding operations will report information under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Industry input during a 60-day comment period will be vital, as the proposals could dramatically alter reporting requirements for some cattle feeders.
The proposed rules, according to EPA, are intended to reporting rules intended to collect facility-specific information, improving the agency’s ability to implement the NPDES program and to ensure appropriate practices are implemented by CAFOs. The ultimate outcome, EPA says, is improved protection of water quality.
EPA’s regulation of discharges from CAFOs dates to the 1970s. The agency does not have facility-specific information for all CAFOs in the United States, which it says is contrary to many other regulated industries. “Facility location and basic operational characteristics that relate to how and why a facility may discharge is essential information needed to carry out NPDES programmatic functions,” the EPA notes in background information for the proposals.
As part of the proposal, the EPA offers two regulatory options regarding which CAFOs would be required to submit information.
All CAFOs would be required to report to the EPA regardless of the size of a CAFO and the permit status of a CAFO. The EPA estimates that the universe of CAFOs subject to this option is approximately 20,000 out of the approximate 212,000 animal feeding operations (AFOs) in the United States.
As part of this option, the EPA proposes to allow states with approved NPDES programs to
submit the information on behalf of CAFOs within the state. If a state chooses to provide the
information on behalf of its CAFOs, then those CAFOs would not be required to submit
information to the EPA.
Only CAFOs in focus watersheds that have water quality concerns associated with CAFOs would be required to report information to the EPA. Additional criteria for identifying focus watersheds include high densities of animals, patterns of vulnerable soils, and other relevant information, such as proximity to environmental justice communities.
The agency would determine on a case-by-case basis which areas meet the proposed criteria. States
would not be allowed to report information on behalf of CAFOs under this option.
Defining AFOs and CAFOs
Here is how EPA defines a CAFO. An operation must first meet the AFO definition before it can be considered a CAFO. An AFO is a lot or a facility where animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period and where vegetation is not sustained in the confinement area during the normal growing season.