IEPA says its poor job on animal factories will stop

From press release

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—In September 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a highly critical report highlighting a number of shortcomings in Illinois’ program to regulate factory farms. Nov. 1, Illinois EPA responded to the report by committing to a number of significant policy changes that, if implemented, have the potential to improve on a serious and longstanding failure of environmental protections in Illinois: insufficient regulation of factory farms that pollute.

Officially known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), factory farms confine livestock raised for meat, egg and milk production. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is responsible for ensuring factory farms are not polluting air and water and are in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act.

“If the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency does everything they say they will, their regulatory program will be improved. But improved policies must be accompanied by aggressive State action and a stronger ethic to do everything possible to protect people and wildlife from pollution,” said Stacy James, Water Resources Scientist for Prairie Rivers Network.

The commitments that IEPA made in their response to USEPA include:

→ IEPA will seek to amend the Illinois Environmental Protection Act so that the Agency has greater authority to take enforcement action against factory farms. IEPA will also seek an amendment requiring all factory farms to apply for water pollution (NPDES) permits.

→ IEPA is developing a statewide inventory of factory farms.

→ IEPA staff will receive training and be required to follow new procedures, which should result in better inspections and records of factory farms.

→ IEPA will, upon request, provide written responses to citizens who file complaints against factory farms.

→ To better protect air, water and nearby residents from factory farm pollution, IEPA will need to make several improvements to regulations it has promulgated under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.  Conservation organizations Prairie Rivers Network and Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water are part of the work-group advising IEPA on how the regulations should be changed. The public should have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes to the regulations in 2011.

→ Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water filed the 2008 petition to USEPA that precipitated the USEPA investigation and report.

→ “We are pleased that the USEPA conducted a thorough investigation of the state in response to our petition and that the IEPA completed a timely response,” according to petitioner Danielle Diamond. “We are optimistic that these developments will ultimately lead to proper enforcement of the Clean Water Act against factory farms in Illinois.”

→ “Throughout Illinois, people depend on having both clean water and bountiful farms. Both can and should be a part of our future, but to ensure they will be, it is critical to strengthen protections for clean air and water by reducing factory farm pollution through improved siting, regulation, and enforcement policies,” said Max Muller, program director at Environment Illinois, a statewide environmental advocacy group. “Illinois EPA’s response—to what can only be described as serious rebuke from USEPA—shows promise. We need to work with the IEPA to ensure that we are interpreting its commitments correctly, that they are sufficient, and, in the longer term, that the Agency follows through on them.”

→ Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Environment Illinois will be monitoring IEPA’s implementation of its commitments to USEPA over the coming months.

Editor’s note: IEPA’s executive director is Doug Scott, a former mayor of Rockford. Danielle Diamond is also on the Quad Cities Waterkeepers Board of Directors and has written columns in this paper about CAFOs. Max Muller, program director at Environment Illinois, has also written columns for this paper. Congratulations to James, Diamond and Mueller for their fine work!

From the Nov. 17-23, 2010 issue

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