BREAKING NEWS: Court Allows AFBF to Join Farmer Lawsuit Against EPA

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia has ruled that the American Farm Bureau Federation has a right to join in a lawsuit over the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate poultry and livestock farms under the Clean Water Act. In July, AFBF asked for permission to join on the side of West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt, who brought suit to challenge an EPA order demanding that she obtain a CWA discharge permit for stormwater runoff from her farmyard. The West Virginia Farm Bureau has also joined the lawsuit. EPA aggressively opposed the Farm Bureaus’ participation.

“The court clearly recognizes the importance of this case for thousands of other livestock and poultry farmers threatened by EPA’s unlawful restriction of the agricultural stormwater exemption,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The court flatly rejected EPA’s argument that other farmers facing similar EPA demands should be forced to file their own lawsuits. We are pleased that Farm Bureau will be allowed to challenge EPA’s actions on behalf of all our farmer and rancher members,” he added.

Alt sued EPA in June after the agency ordered her to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit. EPA’s order threatens Alt with $37,500 in fines for each time stormwater comes into contact with dust, feathers or dander on the ground outside of her poultry houses, or small amounts of manure that may be present in the farmyard as a result of normal poultry farming operations. EPA also seeks separate fines if Alt fails to apply for an NPDES permit.

According to AFBF’s intervention papers, EPA’s order to Alt represents the latest EPA attempt to regulate non-discharging farmers—this time by unlawfully narrowing the statutory exemption for “agricultural stormwater discharges.” EPA has claimed here that the agricultural stormwater exemption does not apply to larger farms that qualify as concentrated animal feeding operations, except for certain “land application areas” where crops are grown.

According to Judge John Preston Bailey, AFBF and WVFB demonstrated that a ruling upholding EPA’s order would harm numerous other farmers and ranchers. Under EPA’s reasoning, Bailey stated, “virtually every large [CAFO] would likely have an obligation to obtain a federally mandated permit if it rains enough in their area to wash manure and dust particles off their land and eventually into a jurisdictional water.”
In allowing AFBF’s participation, Judge Bailey noted that AFBF is a “veteran advocate in the courts on issues related to CWA permit requirements for CAFOs.” Stallman agreed and noted, “We are proud of our past efforts on behalf farmers and ranchers, and we are honored that the court recognizes that we bring something useful to the table.”

BREAKING NEWS: AFBF Presents Case on Chesapeake Bay Regulations

Photo By NASA Goddard Photo & Video

Attorneys for the American Farm Bureau Federation delivered legal arguments Thursday explaining why the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Water Act when it issued its “Total Maximum Daily Load” regulation for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

AFBF believes that states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, not the federal government, are authorized by law to decide how best to achieve water quality goals. “The Clean Water Act put states in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about how to achieve clean water and restrictions on land use and development,” according to Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for AFBF.

AFBF delivered the oral arguments and answered questions during a lengthy session before Judge Sylvia H. Rambo in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Pa. More than a dozen Pennsylvania farmers, as well as staff from several state Farm Bureau organizations within the watershed, attended the argument to show their support for the legal challenge.

“Judge Rambo clearly believes this case is important and involves complex legal questions,” said AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen. “She had carefully studied the parties’ arguments and was active in her questioning. At the end of a very long day of arguments, she told the parties not to expect a quick decision.”

New AFBF Campaign: Stop the Flood of Regulation

Farmers are working to stop an effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate waterways Congress never intended the agency to regulate.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has launched its “Stop the Flood of Regulation” campaign because it believes the EPA is trying to improperly alter the Clean Water Act. That law gives the EPA the power to write rules to protect navigable waters.

Using what is called a guidance document, the EPA is seeking to take the word “navigable” out of the law, which would allow it to regulate even a roadside ditch that holds water after a heavy rain.

“A guidance document is supposed to be a non-binding policy document for field offices on how to implement current law and current policies,” said Cody Lyon, AFBF grassroots and advocacy director.

Of concern to Farm Bureau, Lyon said, is that “there’s uncertainty with how this guidance document can be implemented. This could be interpreted many different ways around the country or even many different ways within a state. For 40 years the Clean Water Act has done a great job. The problem is the guidance document goes beyond Congressional intent, and they’re also ignoring the Supreme Court precedents that have determined the definition of ‘navigable.’”

That could be problematic for farmers and ranchers, who fear that even a farm pond or ditch could now fall under EPA permitting regulations.
“We’re talking thousands, tens of thousands of dollars,” he said, because the guidance could affect “anything dealing with livestock operations, anything dealing with applications of pest management tools, anything dealing with wetlands, groundwater, runoff, storm water. You could start having a flood of regulations that start coming in just from this one guidance document.

“We’re trying to make sure we stop this flood of regulations at the very beginning, before it starts getting out of control.”

Farm Bureau is asking its members who farm to tell their Congressional representatives how hard the new rule could hit them, and to ask for support of H.R. 4965, a bill that would preserve existing U.S. water rights and responsibilities in the Clean Water Act.

AFBF President Bob Stallman said the EPA guidance document “improperly changes the law of the land,” and he asserted that, in issuing it, the EPA is bypassing the necessary public outreach required under the Administrative Procedures Act.

Please stay turned for more information and action alerts related to this campaign in the next few weeks. To sign up action alerts, please contact Kelly Pruitt at kprui@vafb.com or 804-290-1293 with your producer membership number.

AFBF President responds to Reps. Hurt and Altmire’s "Preserving Rural Resources Act"

AFBF President
 Bob Stallman

Last week, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman released a statement in support of Reps. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) H.R. 4278, the Preserving Rural Resources Act.

“H.R. 4278, the Preserving Rural Resources Act, introduced in the House of Representatives, addresses a critical issue,” Stallman said. “The legislation reinforces agricultural exemptions granted to farmers and ranchers by Congress in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Farmers, ranchers and the forestry community are facing increased federal regulatory and compliance costs, as well as constraints on land used for the production of food, fiber and fuel. We’ve seen a concerted effort by regulators to narrow the scope and usefulness of the Clean Water Act exemption Congress explicitly intended for agriculture.” This legislation is intended to reaffirm the following exemptions:
• Normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities;

• Maintenance and emergency reconstruction of dikes, dams, levees, riprap, breakwaters, causeways and bridge abutments;

• Construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds and irrigation ditches, and maintenance of drainage ditches;

• Construction of temporary sedimentation basins;

• Construction and maintenance of farm and forest roads or temporary roads for moving mining equipment; and

• Any activity with respect to a state approved programs
The Hurt (R-VA) and Altmire (D-Pa) amendment simply clarify that these exemptions apply to activities described listed above. AFBF is seeking bipartisan cosponsors to introduce this legislation in the Senate.