The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) initiative is impractical for the diverse U.S. cattle industry. That's what the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) pointed out in its 108 pages of comments on EPA's proposed rules governing CAFOs.

“Environmental initiatives work best when they are scientifically based, site specific and economically viable,” says Faith Burns, Washington D.C. “However, the EPA's CAFO proposal is broad and confusing.” Burns is NCBA's associate director of environmental affairs.

Since the early 1970s, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has defined CAFOs as point sources. The newly proposed CAFO regulations would broaden the number of operations that are considered point sources. The proposal sets out various options for defining a CAFO. A “Two-Tiered Option” would define a CAFO as any farm or ranch with 500 beef cattle. A “Three-Tiered Option” would define a CAFO as any farm or ranch with 300 beef cattle that failed to meet certain risk factors.

In comments delivered to the EPA, NCBA made several recommendations to improve the complex proposed regulation, including:

  • Allowing states the flexibility to develop programs that achieve goals.

  • Recognizing that manure management procedures should take into account regional environmental differences.

EPA has the authority to delegate certain Clean Water Act functions to individual states,” explains Burns. “Cattlemen believe that programs in many of these states are achieving positive environmental results.” These state programs take into account regional and local variations that require different types of environmental protections, she adds.

The public comment period on the EPA CAFO proposal ended July 30. All comments will be subject to extensive review, and final rules are scheduled to be published in December 2002.

Among its list of comments, NCBA asked the agency to leave existing CAFO definitions place. NCBA also:

  • Objects to “co-permitting” as the concept is out of the scope of EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This provision would make the owner of cattle in a custom feedyard liable for environmental management practices, which are beyond the control of that cattle owner.

  • Objects to the attempt to regulate ground water as it has no authority under the CWA.

  • Objects to provisions requiring the producer to establish that no potential to discharge exists.

  • Objects to the attempt to circumvent the CWA by regulating agricultural storm water runoff.

  • Recommends that manure at the CAFO be applied according to a nutrient management plan approved by state agencies or their delegated authority.

  • Objects to the requirement of a “permit nutrient plan” (PNP) — and the expanded definition of a CAFO to include the production area and land application area.

  • Objects that the PNP be part of the public notice and asks that privileged information provided to the permit authority be given protection.

  • Recommends allowing states to have discretion in whether to issue individual or general permits.

  • Objects to the agency's attempt to regulate air quality issues under a water quality program.

  • Submits that the CAFO cannot be responsible for manure once it leaves the CAFO and cannot have liability for third-party application.