Baltimore – These facilities, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), currently operate under Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permits issued by MDE that provide for minimal inspection and no water quality monitoring to assure compliance.
“The permits that MDE gives to these industrial facilities do not allow for any discharges of pollutants from their production areas, but we know these facilities are one of the biggest contributors in Maryland to the Bay’s ongoing pollution problem,” stated Scott Edwards, co-founder of Food & Water Justice, the legal arm of Food & Water Watch. “The lack of oversight and monitoring means the permits are little more than symbolic gestures, under which factory farms can continue to pollute at will.”
The Problem with Nutrient Pollution from Factory Farms in Maryland
A March 2015 United States Geological Survey report singles out industrial agriculture on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a dominant source of that state’s contribution to the ongoing Bay problem, noting the concentrations of nitrogen in groundwater, and nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters, are well above natural levels and are among the highest in the nation. The amount of pollution flowing off these facilities persists despite historic levels of federal and state funding for the industry to implement failing conservation practices, even as this industry launches an unprecedented expansion across Delmarva.
Under the CWA, all permitted industries must monitor and report their pollution discharges to show that they are in compliance with the terms of the permit. “The only industry that gets away without monitoring its discharges is the factory farm industry,” said Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastal Trust Executive Director. “That means that they can never be held accountable for polluting like other industries are, and the results of this irresponsible exemption are clearly evident in the Bay.”
Only one state in the country, California, requires permitted factory farms to sample water from the ditches that carry pollution to our streams and rivers. The current Maryland permitting program never requires factory farms owners and operators to check their discharges for pollution.
Despite the documented impact factory farms are having on the Bay and waterways across the country, where industrial agriculture is the largest source of nutrient pollution, both our federal and state environmental agencies continue to pursue negligent oversight and enforcement policies, according to the lawsuit. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new “Waters of the U.S.” rule that purports to improve the quality of our nation’s waterways, but leaves 40 percent of them unprotected. According to EPA’s own rule factsheet, the rule expands industrial agricultural exemptions from regulation, while providing no new requirements for the industry, instead relying on voluntary pollution control measures.
Recent reports, like the December 2013 Government Accountability Office Report to Congress on the need for changes to the Clean Water Act, illustrate how voluntary nonpoint pollution source controls only result in a 20 percent water quality compliance rate while mandatory point source control approaches lift the compliance rate to 83 percent.
“Once again, the Agency took care to ensure that the largest source of pollution to our waterways remains deregulated,” says Michele Merkel, also co-director of Food & Water Watch’s Food & Water Justice. “As long as EPA and MDE continue to turn a blind eye to industrial agriculture, our waterways, including the Bay, will continue to spiral downwards. We have spent decades providing many millions of taxpayers’ dollar to the agricultural industry in the hope that our waterways will improve through voluntary pollution reduction measures to little or no avail.”
“This law suit is about bringing some responsibility to an industry that currently has none,” stated Kathy Phillips. “It’s about bringing some of the things that have worked so well with so many other industries to our biggest pollution problem – industrial agriculture. As long as this industry continues to be unaccountable, our waterways and communities will continue to suffer.”