WASHINGTON --The Environmental Protection Agency said it will place new controls on thousands of large livestock and poultry farms to reduce the flow of animal and chicken wastes into the nation's waterways. Some farmers claimed the restrictions would lead to higher food prices, while environmentalists argued the crackdown was long overdue and only a first step to stem growing pollution from agricultural runoff.
The EPA initiative is the first installment of a broader plan to protect the nation's waterways. President Clinton last month singled out the need to protect lakes and streams from urban and agricultural pollution as one of his top environmental priorities.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said urban and agricultural runoff accounts for half of the pollution in the nation's lakes and rivers and waste ``from animal feeding operations in particular has been associated with threats to human health and the environment.''
The plan, once it is formally adopted, would reflect a significant broadening of the federal government's oversight of an estimated 6,000 commercial livestock and poultry farms across the country. The agency said the largest of these facilities would have to fully comply with new pollution controls by 2002 and the rest by 2005. Currently only about a fourth of the animal feedlots are regulated by states, according to the EPA.
The EPA strategy called for regulating large poultry and other livestock farms, or feedlots, to curb pollution into nearby waterways much as factories currently are regulated under the Clean Water Act. The controls would not apply to cattle ranches, but only to feedlots where the livestock are fattened before slaughter. Beef or dairy cattle, hog, and poultry farms would be subject to regular inspections, require pollution permits, and be required to develop plans limiting release of chemicals, manure, and other wastes into waterways, the agency said Such pollution has been blamed for excessive nutrients and toxic chemicals getting into lakes and streams, leading to a growing number of fish kills in waterways in many parts of the country.
Wastes from poultry farms on Maryland's Eastern Shore was blamed last summer for an outbreak of the microbe pfiesteria that killed thousands of fish and forced state officials to close infected rivers along the Chesapeake Bay to fishing. The flow of large amounts of nutrients from livestock into rivers and streams also has caused oxygen-choking algae blooms in waterways, creating in some cases ``dead zones'' where fish and other aquatic life no longer can survive.
The EPA proposal would require permits for farms with more than 1,000 cattle, 2,500 swine, or 100,000 laying hens. Permits also could be required for smaller farms that were found to pose an environmental hazard to specific environmentally sensitive waterways, the sources said. Currently, cattle feedlots, large commercial hog farms, and poultry farms are regulated by the state with pollution standards and permits varying from one region to another.
The new EPA initiative had been expected within the agriculture industry. Some livestock groups have been critical of increased federal controls, arguing they would put U.S. farmers at a disadvantage against farms in Mexico and other countries, and lead to higher consumer prices for chicken, beef, pork and dairy products.
Still other farmers, however, have said federal standards may be an improvement over what some consider a hodgepodge of state regulations, with farmers in some states required to meet more stringent pollution controls than competitors in a neighboring state. AP
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