On February 28, 2005, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that portions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CAFO rule issued in February of 2003 were invalid. The rule was challenged both by environmental groups and agricultural organizations. The court’s ruling included the following specific rulings:

Unless there is a discharge of a pollutant to a water of the United States, there is no violation of the federal Clean Water Act and CAFO’s are not required to get an NPDES (discharge) permit. 
Nutrient management plans must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate government agency before an NPDES permit is issued. Further, nutrient management plans must be available for public review and comment before a permit is issued.

The court’s ruling could have a significant impact on Iowa confinement livestock operations because NPDES permits, as mandated by the CAFO rule, should not be required. This is due in large part to the fact that Iowa law requires confinement operations to contain all manure and prohibits discharges of manure to a water of the state.

The court’s directive for agency review and public access to nutrient management plans should not impact Iowa confinement operations because even if a confinement operation would be required to obtain an NPDES permit, these requirements have been in place under Iowa law for manure management plans since 1995.

The court also ruled that land where manure is applied from CAFO’s is a part of the CAFO and is subject to permit requirements. In other words, a discharge from land application would be a discharge from a CAFO and would require a discharge permit. However, the court went on to rule that if a CAFO utilizes a site-specific nutrient management plan, any discharge from land application in compliance with the nutrient management plan and which results from a precipitation event is not a discharge for which a discharge permit is required. This is the so-called agricultural storm water discharge exemption to permit requirements.

The actual impact of the court’s ruling will not be known until both federal and state CAFO rules are rewritten to comply with the court’s decision. IPPA will continue to monitor the issue and keep producers informed.

DNR has requested that the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission terminate the proposed state CAFO rule, awaiting a re-write of the federal CAFO rule.