The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long history of failing to adequately regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. That’s why Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper filed suit against the EPA in the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for issuing a permit for Idaho factory farms that contained essentially no pollution monitoring, as required by the Clean Water Act. And we won, with the Court sending the permit back to EPA to add monitoring because there was no way to know whether a factory farm was violating the Clean Water Act without monitoring in place.
This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) 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 has largely avoided any regulation by federal environmental laws, 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 Clean Water Act is meant to control this kind of pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) and other “point source” dischargers, and that system relies on the monitoring that factory farm permits habitually lack across the country.
While this is an Idaho-specific permit and an important win on the path to accountability in the state, the Court’s ruling should also have national impact. The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.
Following this critical win, we will continue fighting for stronger regulation and enforcement across the country to protect our rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution.
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