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EPA Meets Farmers over Discharge Restrictions

by 5m Editor
18 February 2009, at 8:42pm

US - Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) attended three meetings last week to answer questions from the agricultural community about the new federal regulations regarding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Farmers with more than 37,500 birds may have to submit a Notice of Intent by 27 February.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) attended three meetings last week to answer questions from the agricultural community about the new federal regulations regarding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), reports American Farm.

The meetings were held in Ruthsburg and Princess Anne, Maryland and Georgetown, Delaware.

"Based on how EPA defines discharge or proposes to discharge, it appears that nearly every poultry farm on the Delmarva Peninsula may be considered a CAFO by EPA," said Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) Inc. "This means every poultry grower needs to do a farm self-assessment to determine if it should seek an industrial strength CAFO permit."

David McGuigan, associate director of EPA's Region III Office of NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Permits & Enforcement, told the poultry growers attending the meeting that they should ask themselves these questions to determine if they are a CAFO:

  • Do I have more than 37,500 birds in my operation? (If growers have 37,500 birds but fewer than 124,999 birds, they are a medium CAFO. If they have more than 125,000 birds, they are a large CAFO.)
  • Do I discharge or will I propose to discharge to waters of the state?

If growers answered yes to these questions, they must file a Notice of Intent application with MDE by 27 February.

"If you discharge, you need to apply for a permit," Mr McGuigan said. A discharge, as defined by the EPA, is any amount of any pollutant that reaches waters of the state. Waters of the state are any surface waters, like those in a pond, stream or river, although Mr McGuigan said that isolated farm ponds are not defined as waters of the state.

"No matter how clean you are, you're going to have some pollutants," he said. "If you have a discharge, that doesn't mean you're a bad farmer."

Mr McGuigan said that many operations have a discharge simply because of the way they are designed, constructed, operated or maintained. Sources of a discharge can come from storage facilities, litter handling, poultry handling or fan ventilation. However, if growers are able to correct the discharge (preventing it from occurring in the future), they do not need to apply for a permit.

Many growers on the Delmarva Peninsula have poultry houses on more than one farm, so questions were asked of EPA officials as to what counts as one farm. If the two farms are adjacent or have coordinated activities (such as clean outs), they count as one farm.

The farms are considered separate if they do not share a manure shed or litter application.

Jay Sakai, MDE director of water management, said that growers only have to be concerned with complying with the federal CAFO for the time being. The permit for Maryland Animal Feeding Operations (MAFOs) has been put on hold, due to litigation from a poultry grower and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Mr Sakai said growers should file a Notice of Intent but MDE does not expect everyone to have all the paperwork completed, such as the Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP). He said that because there are so few people who are qualified to write these plans, MDE is willing to "work with each of the farmers and come up with a schedule that makes sense".

"The best thing to do," he said, "if you think you'll fall into this permitting scheme, file a Notice of Intent and work with the department."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service does have people on staff who are certified to write a CNMP, and the agency also provides cost-share funding for the process.

Mr Sakai added that the state will take the Notice of Intent from the growers without the application fee for the time being, until the issue of whether farmers will have to pay the annual fee is resolved.

"While all this attention was devoted to the new federal regulation, DPI also was busy trying to relieve Maryland growers of the annual fee they would be required to pay to obtain a federal CAFO permit," Mr Satterfield said. "The fee is levied by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), which administers the federal CAFO program. The largest CAFOs in Maryland would be required to pay a $1,200 per year fee. Smaller Maryland farms would pay smaller fees. There are no fees in Delaware or Virginia."

Mr Satterfield said that DPI has met twice with members of the Maryland Eastern Shore legislative delegation, the chairpersons of the House and Senate environmental committees, MDE Secretary Shari Wilson, Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Roger Richardson, and Governor Martin O'Malley to urge elimination of the annual permit fee.

"We did learn at the first of the EPA information meetings that MDE was waiving the annual fee, at least for now," he said. "It's unclear if it will be charged later. We continue to urge that the fee be eliminated permanently."

Mr McGuigan also took growers what should happen during an EPA inspection. EPA will come out to a farm, usually with advanced notice. The agency typically gives notice at least one day ahead of time, and depending on the type of inspection, it will give up to a week's notice.

EPA officials should ask permission to come onto the property and disclose which farms, if any, they have visited in the past 48 hours. They also should follow biosecurity protocols set in place by growers.

Officials should ask permission to see farm records, such as a Nutrient Management Plan, and take a walk around the farm. They will never enter someone's home, Mr McGuigan said. Before they leave the farm, they will perform an exit interview, discussing any issues they found that should be corrected, or tell the grower that they will be contacted in the near future with that information. "They should not threaten you," he said.

Jenny Rhodes, Queen Anne's County Extension agent and a poultry grower, told American Farm she was surprised to learn that any farm with 37,500 chickens is a CAFO, and said she herself will have to get a CNMP.

She said that she and other Extension agents are working to put together an Extension bulletin on the CAFO permitting process and help growers determine if they are a CAFO.

"Please call if you have questions," she said. Extension is here "to educate farmers on what they have to do".

Ms Rhodes added that the EPA and MDE officials did put growers at ease, though, when they told the audience last week that they are willing to work with everyone.

"Our interest is not to take action against farmers," Mr McGuigan said. "We prefer to work cooperatively with you."

The American Farm article concludes by offering contact points for more information on the CAFO permitting process. Maryland growers should contact Patsy Allen with MDE (pallen@mde.state.md.us). Virginia growers should contact Betsy Bowles (bkbowles@deq.virginia.gov). Delaware growers can contact Bill Rohrer (william.rohrer@state.de.us).