Groups Sue Montana Over Unlawful Factory Farm Water Pollution Permit

State permit lacks sufficient monitoring provisions to safeguard clean water

Published Dec 18, 2023

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Food System

State permit lacks sufficient monitoring provisions to safeguard clean water

State permit lacks sufficient monitoring provisions to safeguard clean water

On Friday, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Food & Water Watch and Center for Food Safety sued the Montana Department of Environmental Quality over its statewide water pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also called factory farms. The groups are challenging Montana’s revised CAFO General Permit, issued November 15, 2023, which lacks monitoring provisions to track and measure water pollution from factory farms, a critical Clean Water Act requirement necessary to safeguard Montanan’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

Factory farms discharge pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus — two of the most pervasive pollutants degrading Montana’s waterways — as well as pathogens, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals, linked to algal blooms, fish kills, birth defects and cancers. Following a federal Court of Appeals opinion in a 2021 lawsuit brought by Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper, Montana factory farm water pollution permits must include monitoring provisions.

Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Dani Replogle said:

“Montana’s failure to require pollution monitoring at dirty factory farms amounts to allowing these facilities to operate in a black box. Without proper oversight and enforcement, a permit is little more than a piece of paper. The courts to address this issue are crystal clear that the Clean Water Act requires CAFO water pollution permits to include critical monitoring provisions; the Department of Environmental Quality’s willful disregard of this fact will not stand in court.”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, yet once again, we see the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality favor big industry at the expense of our clean water resources,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “The department’s failure to adequately protect the public and Montana’s water from known industrial scale pollution unnecessarily threatens all other water uses, and our keynote fisheries.”

Montana’s General Permit for CAFOs sets pollution limits and management standards for the majority of industrial CAFOs in the state, which currently includes over 100 industrial operations. Effective monitoring is key to addressing factory farm water pollution, providing valuable information about whether factory farms are following their permits, ensuring the safety of Montana’s waters, and determining whether existing regulation of the CAFO industry is sufficient to protect public health and the environment.

“Montana is the home of the most beautiful rivers and lakes on the planet, renowned for its fishing and recreation, as well as its organic farming,” said George Kimbrell, legal director for the Center for Food Safety. “There is absolutely no place in Big Sky country for mega factory farms to be allowed to pollute waterways without responsible regulation.”

The plaintiff organizations are represented by attorneys from Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety and Daniel C. Snyder, Environmental Enforcement Project at Public Justice.

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