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Great Lakes Article:

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 14 investigators.

No one from the EPA was available Wednesday to discuss the ruling or the program, said EPA spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon.

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 any.

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, officials said.

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 had.

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 other industry.

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.

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