Federal Government Says Indiana's Feedlots
are Poisoning the Water
Feedlot rule confusing, state says
Agency plans to do what's needed to keep discharge
regulating control, official says.
Posted September 23, 2002
Indiana Department of Environmental Management
officials have been ordered by a judge to begin issuing
federal permits to livestock feedlots that discharge pollutants
into waterways, but they say their oversight program already
is stricter than the federal government requires.
Agency officials have not decided whether
to appeal the sharply worded judgment, handed down Tuesday
by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker in a 1999 lawsuit
that claimed the state environmental department and the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed confined-animal
feeding operations to violate the Clean Water Act.
Barker ordered the state to begin issuing
discharge permits to feedlots under the National Pollutant
Discharge Elimination System within four months. If it
fails to comply, the EPA will withdraw the state's authority
to regulate all water discharges, including those from
municipal treatment plants and industries.
Timothy Method, deputy commissioner of the
state environmental department, said the agency will do
what is necessary to avoid losing oversight authority.
"(State oversight) is more effective
than the federal government could ever be," Method
said. "We take any potential for losing it very seriously;
that would be a big deal."
Method said the state will not have to add
staff or spend more money to comply with the ruling. The
state agriculture and solid waste compliance section has
No one from the EPA was available Wednesday
to discuss the ruling or the program, said EPA spokeswoman
Feedlots are prohibited by federal law from
discharging pollutants into state waterways without a
valid permit. Within the past two years, the state began
requiring about 25 feedlot operations with discharge violations
to apply for the federal permit, but it has not issued
Barker criticized the state for delays in
issuing the federal permits.
Indiana has about 500 confined-animal operations
and another 2,500 smaller feedlots regulated by the state,
Method said the state has been unable to get
clear answers from the EPA about what is required. He
said the state has had an oversight program since 1972,
but it was not until 1999 that the EPA began requiring
states to issue the federal discharge permits. Method
said the federal agency also said states could have an
equivalent program, which Indiana officials believed they
Although Method touted the state's program
-- toughened at least twice in the past six years -- Barker
said officials apparently failed to inspect feedlots or
to try to enforce the rules until 1999.
State environmental officials said they began
regular inspections of feedlot operations in 1998; before
that, they investigated only after a complaint or spill.
In 2001, agency inspectors found 32 significant violations
at 782 sites.
A 1998 Indianapolis Star investigation found
that over a 30-year period, hog farms were responsible
for 201 animal waste spills, killing more than 750,000
fish. It also found hog farms had more spills than any
Commissioner Lori Kaplan of the state's Department
of Environmental Management was not available for comment
Wednesday. Neither was former Commissioner John Hamilton,
who headed the agency from 1997 to 1999 and now is secretary
of the Family and Social Services Administration.
Farm industry officials said Indiana's rules
are strict enough. Requiring federal discharge permits
"brings another layer of regulatory oversight with
no perceived benefit" and more cost to farmers, said
Brian Daggy, head of the environmental services division
of the Indiana Farm Bureau.
Tim Maloney, executive director of the Hoosier
Environmental Council, said the threat of losing control
"hopefully will open some eyes at the state level."
He said Indiana has a history of lax enforcement
against livestock operations, which he said has resulted
in an influx of large hog farms.