One of the biggest water polluters in our country is the factory farm. In 2008, a Government Accountability Office report panned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to know where most of these farms were located, let alone if they were releasing their manure into rivers, lakes, and streams.
So in early 2011, the EPA announced a rule asking such farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs, to submit basic information, like their address and how many animals they have, to the agency. On Friday, July 20, EPA quietly announced it was withdrawing that rule, planning instead to try to collect the data from the existing records held by states, even though it has tried that before, with poor results.
In trying to understand why the EPA would back off such a seemingly innocuous yet important data collection project, I imagined myself inside a meeting of EPA clean water officials as they made the decision to withdraw the rule.
Setting: A 10-top table in a soulless gray-hued conference room, Federal Triangle, Washington, D.C.
Official One (storms into room, slams hand on table): I wish those House Republicans would all go on a schmoozy farm tour and fall into a manure lagoon! I can't believe they accused us of flying spy drones over American farms.
Official Two (looking worn): Well, we are flying planes over factory farms in Nebraska and Iowa.
Official One: That's because we can't enforce the Clean Water Act without aerial inspections. Ever since the National Pork Producers Council sued us, the only way we can know if factory farms are polluting the water is if they tell us by applying for a discharge permit --
Official Two: Not likely.