Nebraska feedlots face EPA fines

Nov. 15, 2000
A recent round of federal inspections at large livestock operations has resulted in three Nebraska feedlots facing fines for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

By JULIE ANDERSON WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Nov. 08, 2000 (Omaha World-Herald)—A recent round of federal inspections at large livestock operations has resulted in three Nebraska feedlots facing fines for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

The feedlot inspections, the first at feedlots in some time and possibly the first overall, produced proposed fines totaling nearly $183,000 at five feedlots in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.

In all, 80 inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency are scheduled for this fiscal year in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, up from 24 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 24.

Gale Hutton, water division manager with the EPA's regional office in Kansas City, Kan., said the agency has focused in the past on discharges from industries and wastewater treatment plants.

But growing public concern about water pollution has prompted the agency to take a closer look at an array of water-quality issues, including livestock operations.

In the coming year, the agency will focus on inspecting facilities that don't have discharge permits to determine whether they need them, he said. The EPA also will look at waters identified as having water-quality problems and see whether those problems are related to livestock facilities.

Hutton said the four states in the region have some of the stronger livestock programs in the country.

"That's not to say there aren't some soft spots," he said.

But the inspections - and proposed fines - have left Nebraska and Iowa cattlemen questioning why the federal agency has stepped into an environmental program that has been run by the states since the 1970s. The cattlemen also say they are confused about whose interpretation of the rules to follow - federal or state.

"It appears that until we work through this process, we're not quite sure what the rules are," said Steve Mossman, a Lincoln attorney representing all three Nebraska feedlots. "There appears to be different interpretations between the two agencies, and the operators I represent are caught in the middle."

The proposed fines all pertain to alleged discharges of wastewater containing manure into waterways. All of the feedlots can appeal their penalties. The three Nebraska feedlots and their proposed fines: Joe Prinz Feedlot, West Point, $10,000; Roberts Cattle, Lexington, $51,067; and Car Bar Cattle, Lexington, $10,000.

Brian McManus, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, said the EPA retains the right to oversee programs and to step in and enforce rules even after it delegates authority to states.

"We do feel like we have an excellent program in place," he said.

Iowa, on the other hand, has focused more attention on confinement operations for hogs than on feedlots in recent years, said Wayne Gieselman, coordinator of animal feeding operations for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"We're not incredibly happy with this, but it kind of points out the problem we have," he said.

The state has worked with Iowa cattlemen to obtain discharge permits when needed, but the state has not had the staff to bring everyone into compliance, he said.

But Carol Balvanz, vice president for public policy with the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, said the cattlemen get the impression that the EPA wants to change feedlot standards to require them to contain all runoff on site, which would be costly and difficult in Iowa's wet climate.

"It makes cattlemen frustrated because they thought all along they were following (state) rules," she said.

The issue will be an important one for cattlemen in both states in coming months.

Feedlots, unlike other discharge permit holders, are not allowed to discharge wastewater, said Greg Ruehle, executive vice president with the Nebraska Cattlemen. The only exception is when rain or snow falls over 24 hours in amounts that exceed the 25-year record.

"These guys have been (following the rules)," he said. "They have holding ponds. (The state) said they were adequate. Now EPA is claiming some problems."

The inspections are based on requirements in the permits, Hutton said. "One of the things we'll be working with the states on is making sure we're working on the same page."

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