Manure on the Mind of Lawmakers and Farmers

Date: September 6, 2007

Source: News Room


Hearing on "An Examination of the Potential Human Health, Water Quality,
and Other Impacts of the Confined Animal Feeding Operation Industry."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Oklahoma is among the states with the most concentrated animal feeding operations. Concerns have been raised about the possible environmental impacts of these facilities, particularly the impact they have on water supplies. Communities must have clean drinking water. In each of the past two Congresses, I have co-authored legislation to infuse significant federal funds into the two state revolving loan funds to help communities meet their clean water obligations. Both bills would have also authorized grants for disadvantaged communities. Further, my legislation to reauthorize the Safe Drinking Water Act's small system technical assistance program was recently passed by the Committee.

We can have clean water and an active agriculture industry but we cannot have one at the expense of the other. I have been aggressive in assisting water systems comply with federal laws however, any effort to further regulate farms must consider the critical economic and employment benefits provided by the nation's farms. In a 2000 study, the Department of Agriculture found that of the over 111,000 agriculture jobs in Oklahoma, 71 percent were related to livestock production. According to the USDA, total farm and farm-related employment in Oklahoma in 2002 was 343,636 jobs. Any legitimate concerns should be addressed without threatening the economic viability of Oklahoma's agriculture industry.

It is rare that we have the privilege of two Oklahoma witnesses at one hearing but today we are joined by Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma's Attorney General and by Professor Michael Dicks of Oklahoma State University. It is always a great pleasure to have folks from home come before the Committee.

Conversely, I am disappointed that the Chairwoman refused to allow the Department of Agriculture to testify. USDA oversees a variety of programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to which so many farmers turn for compliance assistance. The USDA would have been able to provide much needed information for today's discussion.

Today's hearing will focus on several aspects of environmental protection, including clean air. One of our witnesses works with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), yet is not representing Iowa. I wonder if that is because when Iowa's DNR studied the issue of odor, it found that relatively few problems, with fewer than four percent of the measurements taken near public areas, homes and businesses exceeding acceptable odor levels. Further, another Iowa study out of the University of Iowa found that every-day products, pets and smoking were the cause of ammonia emissions and not from CAFOs. Given these air studies, and the fact that industry is working diligently to provide EPA with monitoring data to assist EPA in its regulatory assessment, it seems clear that this is an example of government actually working.

I anticipate some discussion today from those who suggest that applying the nation's hazardous waste response law - Superfund - to CAFOs is the solution to protecting our communities' waters. The prospect of declaring animal manure a hazardous waste and thus regulating under CERCLA deeply concerns me. If animal manure is found to be a hazardous waste, then virtually every farm operation in the country could be exposed to liabilities and penalties under this act. Furthermore, how then do we categorize the producers of such "hazardous waste?" Are chickens and cows producers of hazardous waste and subject to CERCLA regulation as well? I do not believe this is what Congress intended. This issue needs a common sense approach where nature and sound science meet and I look forward to our discussion on it.

CAFOs are already regulated under the Clean Water Act. In 2003, EPA published a new regulation updating its CAFO program. The Second Circuit Court would later rule in its "Waterkeepers" decision that EPA could not require farmers with only a potential to discharge to have an N.P.D.E.S. permit. The Court correctly found that the Clean Water Act only regulates actual discharges, not potential discharges. The EPA will soon finalize a new rule to implement the Court's decision. For those who call for additional regulation, it is important to note that one of the current primary regulatory tools has not yet been fully implemented. We need to see how EPA's soon-to-be published rule, which for the first time regulates land application of nutrients, improves water quality.

Both Mr. Dove and Professor Dicks speak of converting manure into energy. This innovation would contribute to our nations' energy supply while addressing concerns about excess animal waste. Most people know that Oklahoma is a leader in the oil and gas world but Oklahoma also leads in developing innovative energy technologies. For example, I have highlighted the Noble Foundation's work with bioenergy crops while chairman and ranking member. Before the recess, I added a provision to the Senate energy bill that would promote geothermal energy for GSA buildings. Oklahoma City's Climatemaster is a national leader in this growing field. We need to encourage innovation in all fields, including animal waste.

This is an important hearing that will allow us to take a comprehensive look at the numerous federal, state and local initiatives and authorities that already exist to address any pollution concerns related to livestock production. I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses.

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Purdue University has launched a Web site featuring scientific information about concentrated animal feeding operations:

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