Questions remain over CAFO permits

Larry Limpf

It’s been nearly eight years since three Wood County residents filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requesting the agency withdraw Ohio’s authority over a permitting program for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which can house thousands of livestock or poultry.
The petitioners, Vickie Askins, her husband Larry, and Jack Firsdon, claim Ohio’s CAFO permitting program, as it is being administered, violates the federal Clean Water Act.
Among other challenges to the permitting process, they contend the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s program allows CAFOs to circumvent manure management regulations by simply selling or giving their manure to others for fertilizer. The result is vast amounts of CAFO-generated manure making its way to streams and waterways in the Lake Erie watershed, contributing to harmful algal blooms.
The federal EPA granted the Ohio EPA authorization to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) in 1974 but state officials in 2006 requested permit-enforcement authority over CAFOs be transferred to the agriculture department.
According to U.S. EPA region 5, the transfer request lacked required data and the state submitted a revised request in 2015. But the region 5 office still hasn’t decided on the request.
In July 2018, Vickie Askins filed a complaint with the U.S. EPA’s Office of Inspector General and this past May the office issued a report saying the region 5 office has had sufficient time to reach a decision.
“EPA Region 5’s delay in timely addressing these…matters has created uncertainty for the state and regulated community,’ the IG report concludes.
The regional office responded it agreed with the report and plans to complete action on the state request and petition by March 2020.
Vickie Askins still has concerns. For one, the IG report states the region 5 office has decided to address the citizen petition after the regional office has resolved the transfer request.
“What I’m taking from this is they’re going to have the Ohio Department of Agriculture make the changes they have to make so their program complies with the Clean Water Act. Then, when they get all that done, they’re going to look at our petition. Our 200-page petition was all about the deficiencies in the ODA program,” she said. “So, for them to wait until after they’re done talking with the ODA before they even look at what we have is like a slap in the face to me. If they talk to the ODA and say fix this and this, to me that means they would have to go to the legislature and amend the Ohio Revised Code and get that all done before they do anything with our petition.”
According to a study by the Less=More Coalition, there were approximately 146 CAFOs located in the western Lake Erie watershed as recently as 2016 in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
Dina Pearce, a spokesperson for the Ohio EPA, said the agency is still responsible for issuing NPDES permits to facilities in Ohio, including animal feeding operations.
Ohio currently has about 30 animal feeding operations with NPDES permits. The permits are for five-year periods and can be renewed, she said.


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