Environmental and animal-rights groups want to force the EPA to collect detailed information on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and intend to take the issue to court.

Activist groups sue EPA over CAFO ruleThe issue stems from a proposed rule EPA published in October 2011, which would have required CAFOs to submit extensive information to the EPA. During a public comment period, according to EPA, state regulatory agencies questioned the need for a federal law, as states already collect the information in question. In July 2012, EPA withdrew the proposed rule. In its withdrawal document, the agency states: “Instead, the EPA, where appropriate, will collect CAFO information using existing sources of information including state National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) programs, other regulations and other programs at the federal, state and local level. The EPA believes at this time, it is more appropriate to obtain CAFO information by working with federal, state and local partners instead of requiring CAFO information to be submitted pursuant to a rule.”

Anti-CAFO activist groups, however, disagree. This week, the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed the suit in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the Agency’s withdrawal of the proposed rule lacks the rational basis required by law.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS said: “The animal agriculture industry has benefited from EPA’s lack of information for decades, and has successfully opposed efforts to increase transparency. This certainly is not good for animals, humans or the environment; it is only good for massive industrialized farms.” 

The EPA’s statement withdrawing the rule notes that EPA initially issued effluent guidelines and standards for feedlots in 1974, NPDES CAFO regulations in 1976 and revised NPDES permitting regulations in 2008.

Earlier this year, EPA came under harsh criticism from agricultural groups after information on 80,000 livestock operations to activist groups Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council in response to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The information EPA released incoluded private material, including names, home addresses, personal telephone numbers and employee records, and EPA did not inform the ag community of the disclosure until after the fact.

The American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order against the EPA, and in July, the agency announced it would hold off on responding to any future FOIA requests for the same information until the legal issues are resolved by a court.