Agriculture secretary supports plan to regulate animal waste Glickman backs EPA, but industry prefers state-level oversight

May 06, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- American growers of poultry, pigs and cattle need to get used to the idea that their animals' manure will soon be regulated by the federal government just as industrial pollutants are, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said yesterday at a Capitol Hill summit on animal waste.

The spread of big livestock operations has become the most hotly contested issue in American agriculture, Glickman said, as more and more communities wrestle with such problems as bad smells, air pollution, water contamination and the suspicion that animal wastes contribute to toxic algae blooms -- like last summer's outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"I think we can see the writing on the wall," Glickman said, lining up behind an Environmental Protection Agency plan to toughen permit requirements nationwide for 10,000 or more of the country's largest animal feedlots.

He said the federal government has a responsibility to end what he called "a mass migration of livestock operations to regions often with the lowest common denominator" of environmental protection.

Level playing field

"We are committed to ensuring a level playing field to give all communities a baseline level of protection," Glickman said at the unofficial summit called by Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Those words echo Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who asked for exactly that in testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee last month.

As Maryland begins to phase in controls on the use of chicken manure and other fertilizer, Glendening wants to make sure the state's poultry growers and farmers don't face higher costs that put them at a competitive disadvantage.

But the federal government has a long way to go in deciding how to control animal wastes, which have polluted an estimated 35,000 miles of rivers and streams.

On a visit to Baltimore in February, President Clinton announced a $568 million initiative to tackle water pollution, including runoff from farms and livestock operations.

Federal agencies' plans for implementing the initiative are due in November.

But in the first round of maneuvering over next year's federal budget, the Senate did not approve any spending to implement the administration's plans.

Written rules 2 years away

Meanwhile, it will be about two years before the EPA finishes writing new regulations for the largest of the nation's 450,000 livestock operations, and the outline of the new rules is far from clear.

At the summit, representatives of the pork, beef and poultry industries said they could support some government control over animal operations' waste but would prefer state-run programs to "a big new federal bureaucracy," in the words of Tim Maupin of the National Broilers Council.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner promised that the new rules will treat farmers as allies in environmental protection, not adversaries.

She said the agency will encourage states to come up with custom-tailored solutions.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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