Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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Oversight of animal feeding operations at issue in Ohio

Reynoldsburg, Ohio — After years of Ohio’s Department of Agriculture (ODA) failing to respond to some 81 unanswered deficiencies found within a 2015 request to transfer regulatory oversight of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to their agency from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. EPA has finally declined their permission to do so.

A Nov. 15 letter to recently-retired ODA Director Dorothy Pelanda comes as Lake Erie has endured another severe harmful algal bloom (HAB) season that was twice the predicted size, included an additional Cyanobacteria type, and lasted much longer than normal (Ohio Outdoor News, Dec. 9).

After first asking for permission to transfer environmental oversight of this growing segment of the agricultural landscape during the Taft administration, the most recent request to approve the transfer occurred during the Kasich administration in 2015, ostensibly to streamline the permitting process.

However, to many, the transfer of livestock pollution compliance oversight from the EPA to ODA
is likened to a fox guarding the hen house.

Unless a small stream fish kill occurs from high ammonia discharges or
oxygen-robbing nutrient spills, agricultural entities are rarely
punished for pollution when it is considered to be non-point source
pollution not being discharged from a pipe.

With the intensive network of underground drainage tiles that quickly take
precipitation off fields and into ditches, streams, and ultimately Lake
Erie, they are effectively exactly that – pipes.

When someone notices and reports dead aquatic life to the Ohio DNR Division
of Wildlife, they must trace the cause, document the numbers of animals
killed, and determine who is at fault.

Yet, these farms have accepted no responsibility for the HABs that are
causing millions of dollars of costs to tourism-related businesses, and
higher drinking water purification costs.

Toledo City Council, which governs a northwest Ohio city where a toxic algal
bloom made municipal water supplies off-limits for three days in 2014,
called for a moratorium on new CAFO construction in the Maumee River
watershed.

The state of Ohio has seen the number of CAFOs grow by thousands of facilities
over the past 25 years, roughly the same amount of time that HABs have
annually overtaken Western Lake Erie.

The cause of the HABs is attributed to overabundant agricultural nutrient
levels that are well-documented by several local university water
quality research labs as responsible for at least 80% in the latest
intensive phosphorous research study.

The Environmental Law Policy Center (ELPC) has been arguing for years now
that the HABs being seen with increasingly frequency nationwide are
being triggered by the millions of gallons of untreated liquid animal
wastes that are now entering watersheds from factory farms in Ohio and
elsewhere.

Curiously, only those which exceed specific animal count thresholds are required to
follow any regulations. The more numerous facilities with fewer
livestock head counts have no regulatory oversight, including those just
under the permitted triggers, nicknamed by critics as “1-unders.”

The amount of animal waste by thousands of the un-permitted facilities
contribute much greater volumes of untreated animal waste than the
approximately 30 permitted CAFOs that are large enough to require
regulatory oversight.

The volume of livestock sewage is multiple times greater than the human
waste that is produced in all of our largest cities combined. For that
reason, some environmental groups are calling for the liquified animal
waste to be processed through sewage treatment plants.

Even China has recognized the negative environmental damage caused by
overcrowded animal populations and has taken action such as limiting the
number of animals per watershed or installing sewage treatment
equipment on site.

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