Livestock Agriculture:

Increased EPA Oversight Will Improve Environmental Program for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

GAO-03-285: Published: Jan 16, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 2003.

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Congress is concerned that waste from animal feeding operations continues to threaten water quality. In light of this concern, GAO was asked to review the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) administration of its regulatory program for animal feeding operations and to determine the potential challenges states and EPA may face when they begin to implement the revisions to this program. GAO surveyed all EPA regional offices and four states with large numbers of animal feeding operations that may be subject to EPA regulations.

Until the mid-1990s, EPA placed little emphasis on and had directed few resources to its animal feeding operations permit program because it gave higher priority to other sources of water pollution. In addition, regulatory exemptions have allowed many large operations to avoid regulation. As a result of these problems, many operations that EPA believes are polluting the nation's waters remain unregulated. Implementation of revised regulations raise management and resource challenges for the states and the agency. For example, because the number of animal feeding operations subject to the regulations will increase dramatically, states will need to increase their efforts to identify, permit, and inspect facilities and take appropriate enforcement actions against those in noncompliance. For its part, EPA will need to increase its oversight of state programs to ensure that the new requirements are adopted and implemented. Neither the states nor EPA have determined how they will meet these challenges.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA developed a draft National CAFO Implementation Plan in May 2003 to implement its revised final CAFO rule issued in December 2002. EPA provided the draft plan to state regulatory agencies for comment and made revisions as appropriate. EPA then asked its regional offices and the states authorized to implement the CAFO program to develop their own, corresponding CAFO implementation plans. These regional and state plans were provided to EPA in March 2004. EPA estimated that full implementation of the revised CAFO rule would cost the states about $8.7 million annually, and requested funding from Congress to increase grants for authorized states. GAO's review of the national plan and selected state plans shows that they generally contain the elements that GAO recommended. GAO did not assess the implementation or effectiveness of these plans. As discussed in the national plan, EPA intended to focus initially on compliance assistance (fiscal year 2005) and subsequently on enforcement in later years. However, in February 2005, a federal district court ordered revisions to the CAFO rule that impacted the universe of CAFOs required to apply for permit coverage and the implementation of other provisions. On July 18, 2007, EPA announced a final rule extending compliance deadlines from July 31, 2007 to February 27, 2009. The extension allows time for EPA to complete revisions to the CAFO regulations and to adjust its implementation plan and regulatory strategy. Because controlling runoff from CAFOs is a national enforcement priority, EPA and the states will continue to implement existing regulatory provisions that were unaffected by the court ruling. These actions are responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the potential benefits of the revised concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) program are realized, the Administrator, EPA, should develop and implement a comprehensive tactical plan that identifies how the agency will carry out its increased oversight responsibilities under the revised program. Specifically, this plan should address what steps the agency will take to ensure that authorized states are properly permitting and inspecting CAFOs and taking appropriate enforcement actions against those in noncompliance. In addition, the plan should identify what, if any, additional resources will be needed to carry out the plan and how these resources will be obtained.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA developed a draft National CAFO Implementation Plan in May 2003 to implement its revised final CAFO rule issued in December 2002. EPA then asked its regional offices and the states authorized to implement the CAFO program to develop their own, corresponding CAFO implementation plans. These regional and state plans were provided to EPA in March 2004. GAO's review of the national plan and selected state plans shows that they generally contain the elements that GAO recommended. GAO did not assess the implementation or effectiveness of these plans. However, in February 2005, a federal district court ordered revisions to the CAFO rule that impacted the universe of CAFOs required to apply for permit coverage and the implementation of other provisions. On July 18, 2007, EPA announced a final rule extending compliance deadlines from July 31, 2007 to February 27, 2009. The extension will allow time for EPA to complete revisions to the CAFO regulations and to revise its implementation plan and regulatory strategy. In addition, when EPA completes its revisions to the CAFO rule, states will have to revise their CAFO programs to be consistent with these changes and adjust their implementation plans and regulatory strategies. Since controlling runoff from CAFOs is a national enforcement priority, EPA and the states will continue to implement existing regulatory provisions that were unaffected by the court ruling. These actions are responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the potential benefits of the revised CAFO program are realized, the Administrator, EPA, should work with authorized states to develop and implement their own plans that identify how they intend to carry out their increased permitting, inspection, and enforcement responsibilities within specified time frames. These plans should also address what, if any, additional resources will be needed to properly implement the program and how these resources will be obtained.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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