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EPA Targets Animal Confinement Operations for Criminal Enforcement

on Monday, 12 August 2013 in Dirt Alert: David C. Levy, Editor

A recent alert from the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a national enforcement initiative targeting animal waste pollution from livestock and poultry operations for criminal prosecution.  Traditionally, the EPA and state agencies have been hesitant to initiate criminal actions in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFO”) cases absent strong evidence of intentional conduct and substantial environmental harm such as fish kills or contamination of drinking water sources. 

Last month’s EPA alert stated that more CAFO criminal prosecutions are necessary to deter other, “less serious” potential violators, to eliminate the “temptation to pay to pollute” and to avoid “unfair competition” to compliant operators arising from other operators who break the rules.  Under the Clean Water Act, criminal sanctions, including fines and imprisonment, apply to any person who knowingly or negligently discharges pollutants without a permit or in violation of a permit.  This includes not only overflows from animal waste containment facilities, but also the over-application of animal wastes to cropland and pastures.  According to EPA, federal prosecutors will be seeking “six- and seven-figure fines” as well as imprisonment for convicted violators.

In recent years, the EPA has conducted flyover surveillance of Midwestern feeding operations to spot illegal disposal of animal waste and to obtain photographic evidence of runoff into rivers and streams.  Last year, U.S. Senator Mike Johanns offered a farm bill amendment to end federal funding for EPA aerial surveillance missions.  While the Johanns amendment obtained 56 votes, it was 4 votes short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.  

During a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing on April 24, 2013, Senator Johanns questioned Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe regarding the agency’s continuing failure to respond to Congressional concerns about the flyover surveillance.  Perciasepe responded that the EPA was only trying to “find the bad actors in the most efficient way by trying to narrow where we would send people to go to talk to the landowner.”  Apparently the EPA enforcement focus has been diverted from “bad actors” to “less serious” violators since Mr. Perciasepe’s April Congressional testimony.   

Read the Full Newsletter: Dirt Alert August 12, 2013

John P. Heil

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