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West Virginia Poultry Farmer Wins EPA Suit over Runoff

October 24, 2013

By VICKI SMITH, Associated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has no legal right to force a West Virginia poultry grower to obtain water pollution permits for runoff from her Hardy County farm because it is routine stormwater discharge, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey said litter and manure washed by rain into Chesapeake Bay tributaries at Lois Alt's Hardy County farm is agricultural runoff, not a fixed pollution source such as a factory. That means it's exempt from the requirement that it be permitted and regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, he said.

"The term 'agricultural stormwater discharge' was not and has not been defined in the statute" covering permitting, Bailey wrote. "The fact that Congress found it unnecessary to define the term indicates that the term should be given its ordinary meaning."

The EPA initially threatened to fine Alt if she didn't seek a permit for her farm, which it called a "concentrated animal feeding operation." After Alt sued last year, EPA withdrew the fines. In March, it offered to dismiss the case.

But the American Farm Bureau Federation and the West Virginia Farm Bureau joined Alt in keeping the case alive, arguing it had economic implications for farmers nationwide.

Bailey agreed, noting that the EPA had imposed virtually identical requirements on two other West Virginia poultry growers and one in Virginia. The judge also said the agency hadn't changed its underlying position that some chicken farms are concentrated animal feeding operations.

That would mean the EPA can require them to obtain permits they've never previously needed.

The Justice Department, which represented the EPA, said it is reviewing the court's opinion.

Cheers went up in a staff meeting when the West Virginia Farm Bureau got word of the ruling.

"It's an affirmation of what we thought the rule was," said administrator Stephen Butler, "and it shows the EPA was overstepping its bounds."

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act, it acknowledged that stormwater runoff was different from a fixed source of pollution and should not be subject to permitting, Butler said. Farmers, who work long hours to keep their operations going, were less concerned about the cost of the permits, he added, than the record-keeping they'd have to do afterward.

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RELATED TOPICS: Poultry, Policy, News, Conservation

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