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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Factory Farm Rules

Air Date: Week of

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Reaction continues to pour in following the announcement of new EPA rules governing factory farms. Tamara Keith from member station KQED reports that some say they won’t address the problem of manure lagoons.


CURWOOD: In a decision long-awaited by the livestock industry and people who live around so-called “factory farms,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules covering huge hog, chicken and dairy cow operations. But critics say the regulations don't go far enough to keep manure out of fresh water supplies. From member station KQED Tamara Keith reports.

KEITH: The nation's livestock operations produce an estimated 500 million tons of manure every day, most of it in massive factory-style operations where animals are housed by the thousands. Much of this manure is stored in large pools known as lagoons, but nutrients and pathogens often escape into the environment. The EPA's assistant administrator for water, G. Tracy Mehan, says the new rule is intended to keep livestock waste out of the nation's waterways.

MEHAN: We expect to see substantial reductions in phosphorous and nitrogen in sediments and pathogens, even some benefits to air pollution, just by change in practices.

KEITH: Under the plan, some 15,000 large-scale livestock operations will have to apply for permits and develop plans for handling manure and waste water.


KEITH: Central California dairy farmer Rodney Kamper washes down about 200 of his cows before they're milked. This water mixed with manure will soon find its way into Kamper's football-field sized lagoon system. Kamper will have to apply for a permit under the new EPA rule, but he doesn't mind much.

KAMPER: We're not out here intentionally trying to do anything wrong. We're trying to be good stewards of the operation of our land, and we are doing as many things right as we can. And if little problems arise sometimes, we want to fix them.

KEITH: But this rule doesn't fix the problem, says Melanie Shepherdson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

SHEPHERDSON: Instead of setting minimum enforceable standards, EPA created a self-permitting scheme that essentially shields polluters from liability, and keeps what they're doing out of the public eye. It's really a disaster for public health and for the environment.

KEITH: Commercial fisherman turned environmental activist, Rick Dove, says that in eastern North Carolina where he lives, large factory-style hog farms are polluting horribly despite a state program that is already more strict than the new federal rule.

DOVE: I've got over 20,000 photographs and hours of digital video that show under these waste management plans, this waste being discharged directly to streams, rivers, creeks and wetlands. And when nature brings storms on through here, the whole thing breaks loose.

KEITH: Dove says that over the years he's seen millions of fish killed in local rivers and streams. He predicts increasing pollution, and a growing grassroots movement will eventually force more dramatic change.

For Living on Earth, I'm Tamara Keith in Fresno, California.



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