WASHINGTON -- Farmers, ranchers and environmental activists will have a chance to scrutinize and comment on a plan to set new guidelines for dealing with the controversial issue of animal waste from hog, cattle, dairy and poultry operations.
"This is a customer-driven strategy," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "Comments from the public are essential to shaping it."
Glickman and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol M. Browner announced this week a new plan that would require the nation's largest livestock operators to develop detailed plans to store animal waste.
The strategy includes a three-month period of public input, which begins immediately.
The long-anticipated joint plan between the EPA and the Agriculture Department is a response to growing concern that the nation's 1.4 billion tons of animal waste have become an environmental hazard. Manure from livestock and poultry operations has been blamed for pollution of streams and lakes, fish kills, oxygen depletion in fisheries and dangerous bacteria outbreaks such as the deadly toxin Pfiesteria.
Under the proposal, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 of the largest livestock operations would be required to have plans that detail how manure will be collected and stored, as well as how waste might be applied to fields as fertilizers. Owners would have to keep records and test soil regularly to ensure no excess buildup of nutrients that might pollute nearby waterways.
Under current federal laws, large livestock farms are prohibited from discharging waste directly into rivers and streams, but the rules do not require steps to keep waste from being washed off farmland by rain.
The new strategy also includes encouraging tens of thousands of smaller farms and animal feeding operations to voluntarily adopt similar plans by providing information as well as technical and limited financial assistance.
The goal is to have all feeding operations on board by 2008.
Some environmental groups say they expected a much stronger plan from EPA and are disappointed.
"I think that voluntary compliance is just a joke," said Michelle Nowlin of the Southern Environmental Law Center. "This is not an industry that responds well to coaxing," she said.
Although Nowlin said the administration's strategy has "the right elements" and "is a good first start," she said it outlines a 10-year implementation period for a problem that needs immediate action. "That's just a disastrously long time frame."
Pub Date: 9/18/98