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Bob Stallman: W.Va. farmer takes stand against EPA

Lois Alt is about as salt of the earth as they come.  She's a hard working, honest and humble chicken farmer in West Virginia.

And like most West Virginians, and farmers for that matter, she's not about to cover her eyes while the government tries to pull one over on her.

Alt has filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for demanding she obtain a pollution permit for her non-polluting poultry farm. And until she gets the permit, she's looking at a fine of $37,500 per day.

According to the EPA, because of some dust on the ground and a few splotches of litter outside her chicken houses, Alt must be polluting somehow and needs to apply for a "National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System" permit.

The little bit of dust and litter are typical of any barnyard, and Alt has won environmental stewardship awards for her farm's cleanliness. But none of that matters to the EPA, which is using Alt's farm as a catapult to wildly interpret the Clean Water Act and enforce it accordingly.

A farm is a farm. It's not a laboratory.

But the EPA has come up with an interpretation of the Clean Water Act that is contrary to how it has been interpreted over the last 40 years. Basically, farmers are going to be regulated if they have animals, according to the agency.  

This isn't the first time the EPA has tried to garner more control under the act by using intimidating inspections and enforcement efforts. It's becoming commonplace. The agency has been taken to court many times because of it.

In two prior court cases, the American Farm Bureau Federation defeated EPA regulations that illegally attempted to impose broad permit requirements for thousands of livestock and poultry farmers whose operations have no regulated discharge.

The EPA's order to Alt represents just another attempt to regulate non-polluting farms. This time, the agency is unlawfully narrowing the statutory exemption for "agricultural storm water discharges."

The EPA claims in the Alt case that this exemption does not apply to larger livestock and poultry farms, like Alt's. The EPA basically claims that Alt's family farm isn't "agricultural" and rainwater from her farmyard isn't "agricultural storm water," just because she houses more than a certain number of chickens.

The suit by Alt challenges just how much power the EPA has under the Clean Water Act permitting system.

The issues raised in her lawsuit are national in scope and affect thousands of other livestock and poultry farmers threatened by the EPA's extreme and unlawful restriction of the agricultural storm water exemption.  

Burdensome and unnecessary regulations are always a point of contention for farmers, especially when we are being flooded with what seems to be never-ending, nonsensical rules. The EPA has a tendency to pile on regulatory burdens with little regard for the costs for landowners.

Most people would agree that $37,500 per day, or $13.6 million a year, for a chicken farm is outrageous. This is especially true for someone like Alt, who tried to make things right with the EPA, which answered only that she must obtain the costly permit.

For Alt, who is now worried about having to mortgage - and possibly even losing - her farm because of the hefty EPA fines, that's not good enough.

Her efforts to defend herself and her family's farm against an illegal EPA order are commendable.

More admirable is that Alt took a stand against the EPA because she knew if she was intimidated into applying for a needless and costly permit, other farmers could feel compelled to do the same.

Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Columbus, Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.



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