Farmers, environmentalists decry animal-waste controls Federal anti-pollution plan focus of Annapolis session

December 16, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

A federal plan to control water pollution from animal feedlots is too strict for farmers and not strict enough for environmentalists.

That was the message at a "listening session" in Annapolis yesterday, where about 150 people turned out to comment on a joint proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to phase in new controls on animal waste by the year 2008.

The plan, announced in September, aims to clean up an estimated 35,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams that are polluted by runoff from animal feedlots. Congress gave EPA the power to regulate animal-raising operations in the 1970s, but agency officials acknowledge they did little about them until recently, when the industry began to concentrate more animals in smaller spaces. The result has been a rising tide of worry about water pollution, smells and other problems.

The regulations, not yet drafted in detail, call for about 95 percent of the country's 450,000 animal feedlots to implement voluntary plans to control their waste. Those plans, similar to ones all Maryland farmers must develop by the year 2005, would include limitations on the amount of manure farmers could spread on their fields. The largest operations -- those with the equivalent of 1,000 cows or more -- would have to get government permits that spell out the methods used to control manure and get rid of it.

At the Annapolis meeting, farmers said the regulations are unnecessary because, they're already taking many of the anti-pollution steps.

"If we'd been forced to do these things through regulation, I don't believe they would have gotten done," said Kenzel Metheny of Clarksburg, W.Va., whose 300-acre farm has won local conservation awards. "I don't believe my farm would be as productive as it is today. It might not even be a farm."

Environmentalists said the proposed regulations should not exempt all but the largest operations. They argued that the problem is too large to be solved by voluntary programs.

The 625 million chickens produced each year on the Delmarva Peninsula generate as much phosphorus -- a potent water pollutant -- as a human population three times the size of New York City, said Thomas V. Grasso, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Despite farmers' best efforts, Grasso said, "We have an industrial waste problem over there, and the bedrock foundation of any program to clean up industrial waste is a strong, firm, fair regulatory program."

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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