Some Preliminary Steps Toward Regulating Nonpoint Source Pollution

David Cassuto

At long last, EPA is taking steps (or beginning to take them) toward addressing nonpoint source pollution of the nation’s waters.  Nonpoint sources are pretty much all those pollution sources that cannot be traced to the end of a pipe.  The Clean Water Act is far less concerned with nonpoint sources than with point sources, a historical exclusion that has much to do with the fact that when the Clean Water Act was enacted, point sources were low-hanging fruit from a regulatory perspective, and were also the primary polluter of the nation’s waters.  The CWA has done a great deal to decrease point source pollution and the nation’s waters fare much the better for it.  However, over the last 4 decades, nonpoint source pollution has greatly increased in the absence of meaningful regulatory oversight.              Continue reading

EPA Region 2 — Taking It To the CAFOs

David Cassuto

The news release speaks for itself:

Region 2 Issues a Class II Administrative Complaint to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation for Illegal Discharges and Numerous Permit Violations On July 15, 2010, Region 2 issued an Administrative Complaint against Wilkins Dairy Farm, LLC (“Respondent”) for several violations of the Clean Water Act and the regulations governing the operation of concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”).  The Respondent owns and operates a CAFO that confines approximately 287 mature dairy cows and 125 heifers and heifer calves.  On April 20, 2010, EPA conducted a Compliance Evaluation Inspection of the facility, and observed numerous violations of the Clean Water Act and its Continue reading

U of Maryland Clinic Wins Important Procedural Victory in Lawsuit Against Perdue

David Cassuto

A while back, I blogged on the attempt by members of the Maryland legislature to strip funding for the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic because of the clinic’s lawsuit (representing numerous plaintiffs) against Perdue and some local chicken producers.  The suit arose from the chicken operation’s  runoff  (allegedly) befouling the Chesapeake Bay.  Perdue spun the suit as an assault against family farming.  Members of the legislature flew into a tizzy and excoriated the clinic for helping its clients pursue their rights under the Clean Water Act.   Thankfully, rational minds prevailed and the threat to kill the clinic’s funding was itself killedContinue reading

Come 2011, Some More Regulation for CAFOs

David Cassuto

From the Correcting Inane Regulations Desk:

One could say that EPA has regulated CAFOs under the Clean Water Act for years.  Big Ag operations are required to obtain NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits for their discharges and consequently, the Agency has monitored such discharges and protected the public from the environmental hazards these operations create.  Of course, if one said all that, one would be wrong

That´s how the story might read if we lived in a rational world.  Instead, Industrial Ag operations can claim — without having to provide verification — that its facilities do not discharge into the waters of the U.S.  Consequently, many CAFOs do not obtain permits, which means their discharges are not regulated.    Continue reading

Ocean Acidification and the Clean Water Act

David Cassuto

Great post over at Daily Kos about some tentative steps by EPA to regulate greenhouse gases using the Clean Water Act.  Oceans absorb roughly 1/4 of anthropogenic CO2.  The dissolved CO2 then forms carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the seawater, which then causes (among other things) mass die-off of coral. 

Coral reefs are home to about 25% of marine species.  When they go, everything goes.  We don’t hear as much about ocean acidification as we should.  Maybe now we will.  In any event, if the agency goes forward with this initiative, we’ll certainly be hearing plenty of caterwauling from the deniers.

Stay tuned.

EPA Takes on a CAFO and Wins

David Cassuto

From the email — some good news from the good people at EPA Region 2.  What I like about this is that EPA is inspecting CAFOS and that it is (at least sometimes) able to use the Clean Water Act as an enforcement mechanism.

Administrative Settlement Reached with Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation

On March 10, 2010, Region 2 issued a final order finalizing a settlement
with Berkshire Valley Dairy, LLC, for its violations of the Clean Water
Act and the regulations governing the operation of large concentrated
animal feeding operations.  The Respondent is a dairy farm that confines
approximately 1000 mature dairy cows and 300 heifers and heifer calves.
On April 21, 2009, and again on May 7, 2009, EPA conducted Compliance
Evaluation Inspections of the facility and observed numerous violations
of the CWA and its implementing regulations, including the discharge of
manure to a tributary of Roeliff Jansen Kill and numerous failures to
adequately document and implement a comprehensive nutrient management plan, best management practices, inspections, and proper operations and maintenance of the facility.  On June 29, 2009, EPA issued an Administrative Order directing the Respondent to correct its violations, and on January 12, 2010, EPA issued an administrative Complaint, proposing to assess a penalty of $12,000. 

Under the March 10, 2010 settlement, the Respondent will pay a penalty of $8,100.

Indian Point Violates the Clean Water Act

David Cassuto

From the Finally Smelling the Decaf Desk: NY State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has ruled that the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (located just north of NYC) violates the Clean Water Act.  The plant’s cooling technology, which has been obsolete for decades, kills so many fish and contaminates so much water that it cannot be relicensed without a substantial retrofit.  Switching the plant over to modern cooling methods will cost over $1 billion and will require a significant shutdown. 

The plant currently uses “once-through technology.”  This means that it takes in 2.5 billion gallons of water per day– more than twice the average daily consumption of New York City — and turns it into steam, which then cools the reactors.  The hot water is then pumped back into the river.   Continue reading

Survey Says: 100% Mercury Contaminated Fish

David Cassuto

In case you were thinking of celebrating the efficacy of the Clean Air Act and/or the Clean Water Act, consider this: a recent study by the U.S. Geological Service revealed mercury contamination in 100% of the fish tested from 291 freshwater streams in the United States. 

That is not a typo. 

Every single one of the fish sampled was contaminated by mercury, a potent neurotoxin.  Over a quarter contained levels exceeding what the EPA considers to be safe.  Some of the highest concentrations of mercury appeared in fish taken from coastal “blackwater” streams of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — undeveloped, wooded areas  — areas where people looking for clean air and water might look to go.  Apparently, such characteristics facilitate the conversion of mercury from its inorganic form in the atmosphere to a more toxic organic form, methylmercury, which accounts for at least 95 percent of the mercury found in fish.

All this might make you wonder where all that mercury comes from.  Answer: coal-fired power plants (and mining).     Continue reading

CAFOs — An Unregulated Assault on the Air & Water

hog-cafo-798035David Cassuto

Today’s NYT does a good job of describing the environmental and human health crisis wrought by CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).  It does a less good job of describing the horrendous conditions imposed on the animals thus confined.  Still, a lot of tragedy gets captured in this little vignette:

In June, Mr. Natzke explained to visiting kindergarteners that his cows produced 1.5 million gallons of manure a month. The dairy owns 1,000 acres and rents another 1,800 acres to dispose of that waste and grow crops to feed the cows.

“Where does the poop go?” one boy asked. “And what happens to the cow when it gets old?”

“The waste helps grow food,” Mr. Natzke replied. “And that’s what the cow becomes, too.”

The thrust of the article concerns the lack of regulations controlling CAFO emissions as well as the ways that Big Ag squashes all attempts to change the status quo.  Consider this: Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  That statistic alone makes factory farming environmentally problematic and in need of regulatory oversight.  But there’s more.

Pig waste is more concentrated than human waste and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, waste from pigs does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it tends to go straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and into the air, causing respiratory problems, antibiotic resistance, and more.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste and air pollution are also serious and growing CAFO-related problems.  And still, industrial agriculture remains virtually unregulated.

Continue reading

Food and Environment

I spend a lot of time talking about the ethics of industrial farming as it relates to the treatment of animals.  Now, I want to say a few words about diet, environment and the law.  On average, Americans consume forty-five more pounds of meat per year than they did fifty years ago.  According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farming Report, that increase translates into Americans eating 2.8 times more pig, 2.5 times more eggs, 2.3 times more chicken and 1.3 times more beef.  This upsurge forms part of a global trend.

Demand worldwide for animal products is growing by 3% per year in developing countries.  Worldwide, demand is expected to increase an additional 35% by 2015 and to double by 2050.  These increases in demand will inevitably lead to increased production.  Increased production of animals will necessarily and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.  One has to wonder exactly how we are going to manage that without cooking the planet.

But of course, climate change is not the only problem.  Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  The pig waste is more concentrated and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, the pig waste does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it usually goes straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and also into the air.  And there are millions of pigs.

This is just a glimpse of the environmental damage caused by agriculture.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste, and air pollution are all serious and growing problems.  Nevertheless, agriculture remains virtually unregulated; very few laws govern its operation.  Of the major environmental statutes, only the Clean Water Act applies at all, and that only sporadically.  See here for a fine article by Professor J.B. Ruhl on this topic.

This – all of this – ought give us pause.  Industrial farming is an environmental catastrophe.  Yet, there are effectively no laws governing it.  Why is that?  When will it stop?

–David Cassuto