Food & Water Watch v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

With Snake River Waterkeeper, we filed a suit of national importance against the EPA for their lax permitting of factory farms in Idaho. If we win, this will set a crucial precedent.

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Food System

To put it simply, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) permit in Idaho violates federal law and will let industrial-scale livestock operations off the hook. That’s why in June of 2020 Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper filed suit against the EPA in the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for violating the Clean Water Act by allowing factory farms to avoid mandatory pollution monitoring.

While this is an Idaho-specific permit, the groups believe that a legal win could have national impact. The CAFO General Permit is meant to ensure that factory farms comply with pollution restrictions that protect waterways for recreation, fishing, wildlife, and other uses. 

In Idaho alone, there are several hundred factory farms that produce vast quantities of pollutants like E.coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. This industry, which remains largely unregulated, has contributed to the 2,000 miles of streams and rivers that are now considered impaired by pollutants commonly associated with factory farm waste. 

The federal Clean Water Act is meant to control pollution from CAFOs and other “point source” dischargers through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that relies on self-monitoring and reporting of discharges.

EPA has let CAFOs off the hook with the Idaho General Permit by failing to include meaningful pollution monitoring requirements.

“Factory farms have flocked to Idaho to take advantage of lax oversight and industry-friendly politicians, with the predictable results of more pollution, degraded lakes and rivers, and fewer sustainable, small-scale family farms. EPA’s permit will allow this pollution to continue unabated by making it all but impossible to hold CAFOs accountable for illegal pollution, in clear violation of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s own regulations.” 

Tyler Lobdell, Staff Attorney for Food & Water Watch

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