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The EPA plays chicken with the wrong farmer

THE over-muscled, but clumsy hand of the Environmental Protection Agency has been slapped again. This time the reprimand comes from Lois Alt, a Hardy County chicken farmer.

Alt has eight chicken houses with ventilation fans, a shed to store chicken litter, a compost shed and feed storage bins. Some dust, manure particles and feathers are blown by the fans into her farmyard.

When it rains, some of the runoff can reach Mudlick Run, which eventually runs into the Potomac River, which eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay, some 150 miles away.

"This is not about loads of litter being dumped outside and exposed to rainwater," West Virginia Farm Bureau Administrator Stephen Butler told me.  "Mrs. Alt has run a very clean farm that has received several environmental quality awards in the past."

Still, the EPA's feathers were ruffled.

The agency told Alt that she would have to get a discharge permit under the Clean Water Act.  Failure to comply could mean civil penalties of up to $37,500 a day and possible criminal action.

Alt was not intimidated. She sued the EPA, claiming the agency overreached its authority.  Interestingly, the EPA tried to back off, canceling the fines and moving to dismiss the suit.

However, Alt, along with the West Virginia Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau, wanted to continue the fight, hoping that a court victory would protect other farmers from an overzealous EPA.

That victory came this week when U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey ruled that the EPA was incorrect.

The EPA has jurisdiction in regulating what are called "point source" discharges, such as waste water from a factory that empties into a river.  However, the law includes exemptions for "agricultural storm water discharges," such as what might come from Alt's barnyard.

Butler believes the decision has widespread implications.

"I think it's a win, not only for Lois Alt and her poultry operation, but a win for farmers across the state and the nation."

Indeed it is.

The EPA's attempt to misapply the Clean Water Act, driving a small business person into a regulatory morass, is yet another example of the agency's tyrannical zealotry.

Thank goodness Lois Alt was having none of it.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.  


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