Dairy cows

Jersey cows feed at a dairy near Gooding, Idaho. The dairy and cattle industries say a recent court ruling on CAFOs in Idaho won’t impact them.

Environmental groups are claiming a huge victory in a court ruling last week that vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s general pollution discharge permit for Idaho concentrated animal feeding operations under the Clean Water Act.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the permit, citing a lack of sufficient monitoring of effluent discharges.

But dairy and beef cattle producer groups say the ruling won’t affect Idaho livestock operations because they don’t discharge effluent into waters of the U.S. and don’t have that permit.

“Right now, because there are no permits, there’s no impact to the industry,” said Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.

At issue is the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which includes limits on pollutants discharged into waters of the U.S., along with monitoring and reporting requirements.

Last year, EPA issued a general NDPES permit for CAFOs in Idaho, which allows the agency to regulate numerous similar facilities in one permit.

It would hold any producers who want to apply for the permit to the same standard as anyone else — rather than applying for a costly individual permit, which requires the applicant to provide the expertise, Naerebout said.

If an operation were discharging into a water of the U.S, EPA would make it get a permit, he said.

To IDA’s knowledge there are no dairy, feedlot or beef operations in Idaho that have an NDPES permit, to which the ruling applies, he said.

“It’s a pretty clear indication our dairy and beef operations are already adhering to a zero-discharge standard,” he said.

Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper, which challenged the CAFO permit, are hailing the ruling as a “massive win.”

“They’re making much ado about not nothing, but very little,” Naerebout said.

“The environmental groups are holding out there that this is a big win. But from our perspective, they’re just trying to use it as publicity and fundraising,” he said.

Dairy and beef operations are already adhering to a zero discharge standard and don’t have NPDES permits, he said.

“This decision doesn’t change what our dairymen do on a day-to-day basis because they’re already doing the right thing,” he said.

Cameron Mulroney, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, said the court ruling won’t have a drastic effect on cattle producers.

“There’s no current impact because we don’t have anyone that has one of those permits,” he said.

If for some reason a cattle operation was found to be discharging contaminated water, it would have to apply for an NPDES permit. But no beef cattle operation in the state has that permit because they don’t discharge, he said.

It’s an accolade to livestock producers’ waste management systems that utilize pen-designed ponds and slope to keep water on site as part of operators’ nutrient management plans, he said.

Cattle producers are monitored under state nutrient management plans. They have to write a plan, update it annually and submit it to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for approval, he said.

The environmental groups are “trying to applaud they had a big win,” he said. “In reality it doesn’t really have an impact. Our guys have been good operators, good stewards and haven’t had to utilize that (NPDES) permit.”

His understanding is EPA Region 10 would have to rewrite portions of the permit related to what the court didn’t feel was adequate monitoring, he said.

Mark MacIntyre, EPA Region 10 senior public information officer, told Capital Press the agency is not commenting on the ruling.

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