Thursday, October 24, 2013

Federal judge says W.Va. poultry farm doesn't need EPA pollution permit for its stormwater; a key case?

"A federal court ruled yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot require a West Virginia poultry operation to obtain a Clean Water Act permit for is storm water in what farm groups are calling a major victory," Amanda Peterka writes today for Greenwire.

The case, Alt v. EPA, involves a debate about discharges from Lois Alt's farm in Old Fields, W.Va., in the ridges and valleys of the Eastern Panhandle, and whether they should be protected by a Clean Water Act exemption for agricultural stormwater, Peterka writes.

The debate began in June 2012 when EPA ordered Alt to get a Clean Water Act permit for the stormwater thought to be coming from her farm or pay a civil penalty of up to $37,500 per day. She argued that a permit isn't required for agricultural stormwater, but EPA said that exemption only applied to "areas where manure, litter or process wastewater has specifically been applied in accordance with the nutrient management practices, not to areas where they may have inadvertently accumulated during livestock operations," Peterka writes.

U.S. District Judge John Bailey of West Virginia wrote: "This court declares that the litter and manure which is washed from the Alt farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge and therefore not a point source discharge—thereby rendering it exempt." 

Farm groups applauded the result, worrying that if EPA had won, it would "open concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to permitting requirements for stormwater discharges," Peterka writes. Environmental groups in the case said they are "deeply concerned that the ruling will make it more difficult to restore the health of waterways across the country, including the Chesapeake Bay."

An appeal seems likely. Peterka writes, "In a statement, EPA said it and the Department of Justice 'are reviewing the court's decision'."

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