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EPA says producers should anticipate regulatory changes

By Melissa Elliott

Huge hog production facilities in Colorado may have been taken care of as far as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concerned with the passage of Amendment 14 in 1998, but other livestock facilities are now the target of the new Animal Feeding Operation/Confined Animal Feeding Operation (AFO/CAFO) strategies currently being worked on in Washington.

Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) recently held a small meeting that brought together representatives of the state’s agriculture organizations and the EPA to discuss just what the plan will look like in the next year or two.

At this time the WQCD is proposing a general permit for CAFO’s (defined as 1,000 animal units or more or facilities that discharge). They are estimating that this will envelop 1,500 operations in the state.

The permit is generally supported by the state’s largest operations because it would protect feedlots and dairies during Colorado’s chronic rainstorms that plague these facilities. With a permit, the facilities could discharge during this kind of event. But the largest operations are concerned that the EPA will require individual permits rather than general permits for the largest facilities. An individual permit would require a few more hoops to jump through and would take longer to get.

The WQCD anticipates that with the assistance of the various ag organizations it could begin work on drafting a permit in January and complete the work by April.

All this action comes in light of EPA rules currently being drafted that would require all CAFO’s to be permitted. The rules are expected to be complete by December 2000.

Farmers Union has been interested in the debates because small operators would also be affected by the AFO/CAFO rules and permits. The WQCD is proposing that AFO’s (under 1,000 AU) would be part of a voluntary registration program. Farmers Union is concerned that while the registration may be voluntary now, mandatory permits for these small producers may be required in the future. And for those operations that do not discharge or have the potential to discharge, the burden of proof will fall on the operator.

In addition, Farmers Union is urging the department to provide a one-stop shopping place for livestock operators that describes clearly who is covered by the general permit, how to apply and what kind of financial assistance is available through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

The EPA has said that producers should anticipate some changes to the agency’s regulatory permitting approach come December. Several things being looked at include the permitting threshold (is 1,000 AU appropriate?) and removing the 25 year/24 hour storm event discharge exemption so that all operations over the threshold would be permitted.

RMFU is interested in hearing from its members on this issue. If you have comments or questions, please contact Melissa Elliott at (303) 752-5800 or contact by e-mail melissa.elliott@rmfu.org.