For almost 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has steadily ratcheted up control over discharges from feedyards and other confined livestock operations. In January, the agency gave the process a Herculean twist of the wrist.

Buried deep in EPA's newly announced set of proposed regulations is language that goes far beyond anything seen to date. The package could compound the impact that concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) regulations have on feedyards, feedyard clients and possibly even consultants. Here's what's at stake:

Who Must Apply For A Permit?

An interesting twist is evident in this category. If an operation needs a permit, the owner, and anyone else who exercises “substantial operational control” over the CAFO, will be required to obtain a permit to operate the CAFO.

“Whether a person exercises ‘substantial operational control’ depends on a number of factors,” says Faith Burns, associate director of environmental issues for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Someone who directs the activity of persons working at the CAFO, either through a contract or direct supervision of activities at the facility, may have to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“In other words, if you own animals at a CAFO (e.g., feedyard), you may be required to apply for a permit even if you do not own the CAFO,” Burns points out. “If you direct how the animals are medicated, for example, you may be required to apply for a permit.”

General Permits

There are provisions in the proposed regulations for “general permits” covering CAFOs. These permits, however, are typically “noticed” for public comment and contain the conditions that must be followed by the CAFO operator.

“The permitting authority may or may not determine your operation is appropriate for coverage under a general permit,” Burns says.

Nutrient Management

CAFO owners and operators must also comply with the terms of Permit Nutrient Plans (PNP). A PNP is a permit that will establish requirements for applying manure or wastewater to crops and pastureland.

The very strict guidelines covering the land application of manure include a protocol for keeping records documenting manure application.

Effluent Limitations

Effluent provisions apply to process wastewater discharges resulting from CAFOs, including production and raw materials storage areas of the CAFO. This includes any water used directly or indirectly in the operation of the CAFO for cleaning facilities, dust control or certain other uses at the CAFO, Burns says.

There must also be routine visual inspections of the CAFO production areas to check for things like:

  • Roof gutters to be sure they are free of debris so they properly divert clean stormwater.

  • Water line breaks to be sure leaking water does not cause dry manure to become too wet.

  • That all impoundments have depth markers that clearly indicate available freeboard.

Strict New Controls

In addition to stricter permitting requirements, the new CAFO proposals includes several new strict controls that:

  • Eliminate potential exemptions from permits currently used in some states. As a result, EPA expects that all “large” livestock operations will now have to acquire permits.

  • The EPA and the states will issue co-permits for corporations and contract growers to ensure financial resources exist to meet environmental requirements.

Larger feeding facilities need to take note of another important change in the proposed regulations. EPA would like to eliminate the 25-year, 24-hour event exemption from the CAFO definition, thereby requiring any operation that meets the definition of a CAFO either to apply for a permit or to establish that it has no potential to discharge.

EPA believes that many of the larger feeding operations that have relied on this exclusion may have misinterpreted this last provision.

EPA has not previously sought to categorically adopt a “duty to apply” for a permit for all facilities within a particular industrial sector. The agency is proposing to now do so for reasons that involve the unique characteristics of CAFOs and the zero discharge regulatory approach that applies to them.

EPA will take public comment until May 14 and will hold public meetings around the country on this proposal. Additional information is available on EPA's Office of Water Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/owm/afo.htm.