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Federal Court Strikes Down EPA Permits For Idaho Factory Farms

Ken Whytock
Flickr Creative Commons

News Brief

A recent decision in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could have implications for agriculture all around the U.S.

The court decided that an EPA permit for so-called factory farms in Idaho went against the Clean Water Act because it didn’t include enough monitoring of waste discharge.

Essentially, the permit system aims to make sure manure pits don’t unknowingly pollute streams and rivers.

The ruling doesn’t mean much right now. Not many operations even use this permitting system in Idaho or around the region.

But, environmental nonprofit Food and Water Watch wants this to be the first of several pushes to monitor major livestock operations nationwide. It sued the EPA in this case and others.

“Food and Water Watch is very focused on increasing permitting of factory farms and also making sure that those permits are as strong as possible,” said Tarah Heinzen, their legal director.

Agriculture groups in Idaho have concerns about the long-term implications, though. Feedlots and dairy operations are big in Western economies.

Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, argues it’s actually a good sign that not many dairies are currently involved in this EPA permitprogram.

“If we did have facilities that were discharging into waters of the U.S., one of the first things that EPA does is that they go back to that facility and require them to be part of the [pollutant discharge elimination] program and get a permit,” he said. “So, our producers are already doing a good job of managing their manure and making sure it’s not reaching waters of the U.S.”

Environmental groups disagree, and believe discharges are happening without sufficient monitoring and regulations.

When asked about the potential for more permits or requirements on large-scale animal operations, Naerebout said “at this point, I don’t see a mechanism where our dairies would be forced into getting [a pollutant discharge] permit. If we’re not discharging into waters of the U.S., we don’t have a history of issues, there’s not the necessity of the permit.”

Naerebout said his association will monitor any new EPA permit language to see what it might cost participating operations.

The EPA would have to draft new language to comply with this ruling.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.