Despite the concerns of environmental organizations and local citizen groups, state lawmakers passed and Gov. Ted Strickland signed House Bill 363, which completes the transfer of oversight of large scale farm animal feeding operations to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The state legislature has been authorizing the agriculture department to assume more responsibility for issuing permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) since 2000. The new bill will transfer the permitting authority for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for CAFOs to the agriculture department from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the bill:
• It specifies the director of the agriculture department has the authority to enforce terms of NPDES permits for discharging, transporting, or handling of pollutants, including manure, from CAFOS.
• It prohibits someone from discharging pollutants from a CAFO, rather than manure from a point source, into waters of the state without a NPDE permit.
• It revises the conflict of interest provisions governing the persons deciding whether to approve a NPDES permit application.
Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski in November testified in favor of the bill, saying it was needed to bring the state in line with new federal rules for CAFOs being implemented by the U.S. EPA. Those new rules, he told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, require states to make similar changes by December, 2009.
“U.S. EPA had indicated that, because Ohio EPA currently retains the statutory authority to oversee the NPDES program for CAFOs , they expect Ohio EPA to implement the required rule changes. They also noted that they will not have a satisfactory basis to approve the transfer to ODA after December 2009,” he told the panel, adding that without the transfer of NPDES to the agriculture department “…the regulatory confusion will continue.”
Environmental groups, however, have reservations about the changes.
The Ohio Sierra Club on its Web site said it is “…unprecedented for environmental permitting and enforcement authority to be given to an agency that is not charged with the goal of environmental protection.”
Ohio CAFOs generate about 10 million tons of manure annually, the Web site says: “This can result in manure over-application, where it can easily pollute local rivers, streams, and groundwater.”
The Sierra Club cites a study by the Environmental Integrity Project that claims the agriculture department has a “weak” enforcement history.
Joe Logan, Director of Agricultural Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council, also testified before lawmakers on the bill, saying it would give the agriculture department authority for overseeing potential discharges of waste materials for which it has no experience.
“…In 2008, I asked why the (agriculture) director would even consider approving a permit for an additional large poultry production facility in a watershed that the Oho EPA had documented was already impaired by nutrients from poultry manure from facilities already sighted in the area,” Logan told the panel. “I was told that the department believed they were precluded from considering such environmental factors because the statute enumerating the criteria for denying a permit lacked any reference to environmental factors. We find nothing in HB 363 that rectifies this concern.”
Larry and Vickie Askins, members of Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms, also raised concerns to legislators about increasing the agriculture department’s responsibilities.
They noted a study by the University of Nebraska which ranked Ohio’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program 10th among the top 10 hog producing states.