Activists push for CAFO permit moratorium

Larry Limpf

News Editor

Bolstered by a recent decision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two Wood County activists are calling for a moratorium on new permits in Ohio for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and stricter regulation of CAFOs already in business.
Four years after Larry and Vickie Askins filed a complaint with the U.S. EPA Inspector General over what they called “Ohio’s invalid split permitting scheme,” the agency last month turned down a request by the state to transfer certain CAFO permit responsibilities from the Ohio EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
In particular, the state has been seeking to transfer to the agriculture department more regulatory authority over National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for CAFOs. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the discharging of pollutants into a waterway is prohibited without a NPDES permit, which sets limits on what can be discharged and establishes monitoring and reporting requirements.
The Askins’ have been watching the number of CAFOs increase in the state over the years, including one less than a mile from their home. And they’ve grown concerned about run-off from the facilities that house thousands of animals. Phosphorus and nitrogen from animal feces and urine make their way from the CAFOs into the Lake Erie watershed, helping fuel harmful algal blooms.
“The permits themselves are unlawful because they don’t have a valid plan for what they do with the manure. All they say is, ‘we are going to sell it to someone else’ who is not under the control of the CAFO owner,” Vickie Askins said. “There is no accountability for that.”
In a letter last month to Dorothy Pelanda, director of the ODA, the region 5 manager of the U.S. EPA says the agency found 81 provisions in 2019 and 2020 in the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative Code that needed revision before a transfer request could be approved.
The state hasn’t responded to either notice from the agency, the letter says, adding “There is no reasonable expectation the state will cure the deficiencies in the request in the near future.”
“I look back at the 81 deficiencies and they have not made one try to get any of these things corrected,” Vickie said. “The Ohio EPA and ODA need to terminate the illegal permits and issue a moratorium until they get this straightened out.”
Shelby Croft, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the department is reviewing the letter from the U.S. EPA.
“ODA disagrees with certain characterizations in the letter and will be responding to U.S. EPA in writing. The request to transfer the NPDES permitting to ODA was an effort to streamline the permitting process and prevent duplicative efforts by ODA and Ohio EPA. In this process, U.S. EPA requested items be included in Ohio Administrative Code or Ohio Revised Code and ODA had been negotiating with the U.S. EPA on the wording of this language. The majority of these changes are items already addressed through policy or planning requirements,” she said.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio Initiative has some good points, Askins said, such as trying to reinstate wetlands and support for filter strips to stem run-off from fields.
But she questions the efficacy of an initiative that pays growers to accept manure from CAFOs.
“They’re paying landowners to put manure on their fields (as fertilizer) to get it away from the fields that are closer to the CAFOs and are saturated. Now what’s happening is they’re getting people who once refused to take the manure by dangling this carrot and some of them are right next to the Portage River. I can’t believe we have to pay to get rid of the waste from the CAFOs,” she said.
Tanker trucks that are used to spread manure and other traffic to and from CAFOs have damaged roads, putting a strain on township budgets, Askins added.
“The county engineer and township trustees are at their wits end because they don’t have enough money to take care of the roads,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the state legislature. They’ve allowed this to go on for 20 plus years.”
Her faith in federal regulatory efforts isn’t much stronger.
“While I appreciate that U.S. EPA did not rubber-stamp this transfer request, I would question why they failed to comply with their congressionally imposed oversight duties which would have uncovered Ohio's split CAFO permitting scheme. Region 5 not only failed to review OEPA's NPDES permits but they also failed to force OEPA to comply with mandatory reporting requirements,” Askins said. “I have repeatedly asserted that OEPA's CAFO NPDES permits should be nullified because they incorporate ODA "state" manure management plans which do not comply with federal regulations. And now the U.S. EPA has confirmed that ODA manure management plans are deficient.”


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