Toledo Blade: EPA smacks down big Ag

The state of Ohio should give up, once and for all, trying to have the state Department of Agriculture oversee the permitting of manure discharges from factory farms. It’s too close a relationship, and the federal government — after years of review, agrees.

Incredibly, 22 years after Ohio first proposed this practice (and started doing it on a provisional basis), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made a decision, ruling that Ohio’s environmental experts — the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency — should regulate the pollution produced by concentrated animal feeding operations.

The U.S. EPA’s Midwest Regional Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager denied the request last month in a letter to Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda.

The EPA should finally order Ohio to quit dragging this decision out into infinity and make it permanent. Any further appeals by the DeWine administration to keep the farm industry in charge of regulating the farm industry should be conducted with the burden on agriculture rather than the environment.

Big Ag, through its friends in the General Assembly and the governor’s office, has resisted effective regulation, while dramatically increasing the number of factory farms in the watershed.

As reported by The Blade (“Ohio’s proposed transfer for manure oversight is denied after 20-year debate,” Nov. 30), the plan dates back to 2000, when the Ohio General Assembly passed Senate Bill 141. That legislation instructed then-Gov. Bob Taft to begin the process of moving that type of permitting authority away from the Ohio EPA and into the hands of the ODA.

The state agriculture department sought the dual mission of both promoting big agriculture and regulating all of the manure produced by livestock facilities large enough to be classified as concentrated animal feeding operations.

About 200 CAFOs are in Ohio, including 60 in the western Lake Erie watershed. Only about half of those, roughly 30, hold National Pollutant Elimination Discharge System permits and are thus affected by the ruling.

Thanks to decades of analysis by scientists at area universities, including the University of Toledo and Heidelberg University, it is beyond dispute that manure flowing from CAFOs in the Maumee River watershed is fouling the Maumee River and Lake Erie.

Props to the state for its successful recruiting of a giant farming industry that serves a global demand for food.

Unfortunately, the industry is not being held adequately to account for the manure, not to mention the fertilizer running off crop fields into the same watershed, that is fueling the growth of algae that threatens the water supply and the Lake Erie fishing and recreation industries.

The EPA’s decision, if finally allowed to take effect, would create a more appropriate arms-length relationship between the farm industry and the regulating of the manure generated by the thousands of dairy cattle, hogs, chickens, and other animals kept inside CAFOs.

Ohio’s regulatory oversight of factory farming is not adequate, as this very long-awaited decision by the U.S. EPA has said so. The DeWine administration should empower its own environmental agencies to regulate and supervise the issuing of NPDES permits and begin to restore common sense to a runaway livestock industry.