Lieberman Questions Animal Feedlot Rule

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., – as part of his commitment to oversee the environmental record of the Bush Administration – expressed strong reservations today about the impact of a new rule governing the disposal of waste from concentrated animal feeding operations.

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, dated April 14, 2003, Lieberman questioned the regulation’s impact on the public’s health and the environment and noted that the General Accounting Office has also raised doubts about the EPA’s ability to implement and enforce the rule.

“Data compiled by EPA confirms that animal feeding operations are significant contributors to impaired water quality in the nation’s rivers and lakes,” Lieberman said in his letter. “In light of the significant health and environmental risks identified by EPA itself, I am troubled that EPA adopted regulations significantly weaker than proposed.”

The new rule, which was published February 12, 2003, and becomes effective on April 14, 2003, retreats from the proposed rule issued in January 2001 by the Clinton Administration. Lieberman raised numerous questions about the rule, based in part on EPA’s own conflicting documents, such as how much waste will actually be reduced; how the health risks associated with harmful pathogens will be addressed; the lack of standards for a nutrient management plan; the lack of a requirement for groundwater monitoring; and whether EPA and states will be able to implement the rule.

“Given the seriousness of the impacts of nutrients on our nation’s waters, please explain why EPA adopted a final rule projected to result in significantly less reduction in nutrients compared to the original proposal,” Lieberman asked. He requested a response to his questions by May 6, 2003.

Last March, Lieberman held two hearings entitled “Public Health and Natural Resources: A Review of the Implementation of Our Environmental Laws,” where witnesses testified about their fears the Administration would weaken existing policies. Richard Dove, Riverkeeper of North Carolina’s Neuse River, and a fisherman by profession, spoke specifically about the concentrated animal feeding operation rule. He told of the open bleeding lesions he first noticed on fish in the river and later experienced himself.

“When you confine animals, or ‘citify’ them,” he testified, “you have to do the same thing for animals you do for people. You have to provide wastewater treatment facilities. But this industry has somehow been able to escape treating their animal waste… Fisherman who fish the waters see this animal waste running down the rivers.”

Subsequently, Lieberman, who then chaired the Governmental Affairs Committee, issued a report by the Majority Staff, called “Rewriting the Rules,” that questioned the administration’s commitment to environmental protection. The report found the Administration discounted regulatory procedure and the value of public participation with regard to three previously approved rules and said the Administration set an antagonistic tone in its approach to environmental and health regulations.

In January of this year, the GAO found that the EPA was ill-prepared to implement and enforce the new animal waste rule.