Washington D.C. – On Friday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a plan to undertake a detailed study of factory farm water pollution to determine whether and how to strengthen its Clean Water Act regulation of the industry. Its decision came in response to a 2021 lawsuit filed by Food & Water Watch in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the agency’s unsupported decision not to update factory farm wastewater guidelines.
The commitment secured by the advocacy group represents the first time in fifteen years EPA will seriously scrutinize its factory farm regulations and the industry’s polluting impacts.
“After fifteen years, the EPA has finally been forced to take a long, hard look at factory farm water pollution. For decades EPA’s lax rules have allowed for devastating and widespread public health and environmental impacts on vulnerable communities across the country. This new study is a critical opportunity for the agency to finally obtain crucial information about the true scope of factory farm water pollution, something it has lacked for decades,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen.
“If it does its job properly, EPA will soon realize what communities living near factory farms have known for years: EPA has allowed factory farms to pollute egregiously as a matter of course. When the EPA can no longer hide behind a lack of data, the agency will have no choice but to finally strengthen its regulation of this filthy industry,” Heinzen continued.
Under the Clean Water Act, EPA is required to annually review, and if necessary, strengthen, its nationwide pollution standards—called effluent limitation guidelines—for factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These guidelines are supposed to ensure that CAFOs are implementing the technology and management practices necessary to reduce the amount of pollution discharged into the nation’s waterways.
For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax pollution standards for factory farms, allowing harmful practices like waste-spreading on snow-covered ground despite mounting evidence that the current guidelines, last updated in 2008, are ineffective at protecting waterways. Food & Water Watch’s lawsuit challenged EPA’s 2021 decision to once again maintain the status quo.
After Food & Water Watch filed the lawsuit, EPA asked the court for a remand to reevaluate its decision in light of the evidence Food & Water Watch presented regarding the inadequacy of its CAFO pollution standards and the flaws in the agency’s review process. Friday’s announcement, published within its Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15, is the result of the agency’s reconsideration.
EPA recognized that the factory farm pollution data it had been relying on to determine whether its regulations were effective were “sparse” and inadequate. The agency plans to gather detailed information about factory farm wastewater discharges to rectify this data gap. EPA also admitted to lacking sufficient understanding of pollution control technologies and practices that may have developed since its 2003 and 2008 CAFO rulemakings. It has therefore agreed to engage in a comprehensive technology review.
Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center represented the advocacy group in this lawsuit.