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Court Allows AFBF to Join Farmer's Clean Water Act Lawsuit

Suit against West Virginia poultry farmer claims dander from ventilation fans could lead to water pollution.

Published on: Oct 12, 2012

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia has ruled that the American Farm Bureau Federation has a right to join in a lawsuit over the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate poultry and livestock farms under the Clean Water Act.

In July, AFBF asked for permission to join on the side of West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt, who brought suit to challenge an EPA order demanding that she obtain a CWA discharge permit for stormwater runoff from her farmyard. The West Virginia Farm Bureau has also joined the lawsuit.

Suit against West Virginia poultry farmer claims dander from ventilation fans could lead to water pollution.
Suit against West Virginia poultry farmer claims dander from ventilation fans could lead to water pollution.

"The court clearly recognizes the importance of this case for thousands of other livestock and poultry farmers threatened by EPA's unlawful restriction of the agricultural stormwater exemption," said AFBF President Bob Stallman on Thursday. "The court flatly rejected EPA's argument that other farmers facing similar EPA demands should be forced to file their own lawsuits," he added.

Alt sued EPA in June after the agency ordered her to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit. EPA's order requests $37,500 in fines for each time stormwater comes into contact with dust, feathers or dander on the ground outside of her poultry houses. EPA also seeks separate fines if Alt fails to apply for an NPDES permit.

AFBF intervention papers say the order unlawfully narrows the statutory exemption for "agricultural stormwater discharges." EPA says the agricultural stormwater exemption does not apply to larger farms that qualify as concentrated animal feeding operations, except for certain "land application areas" where crops are grown.

According to Judge John Preston Bailey, AFBF and WVFB demonstrated that a ruling upholding EPA's order would harm other farmers and ranchers. Under EPA's reasoning, Bailey said, "virtually every large [CAFO] would likely have an obligation to obtain a federally mandated permit if it rains enough in their area to wash manure and dust particles off their land and eventually into a jurisdictional water."

Read more on the topic from Farm Futures blogger Gary Baise by clicking here