Update on Maryland's CAFO NPDES Permitting Program

by Yee Huang

August 11, 2010

In June, I wrote about a settlement between EPA and environmental groups that requires EPA to publish guidance on the implementation of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and to propose a rule to collect more information on these operations. In that post, I cited numbers from EPA showing that states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed had many CAFOs without NPDES permits; for some of the states, not a single CAFO was permitted. Maryland had an estimated 220 CAFOs and only 7 with NPDES CAFO permits.

In response, the Maryland Department of Environment’s Secretary Shari T. Wilson provided an update to the status of the state’s CAFO permitting program, showing nearly twice as many CAFOs and improvements in CAFO permitting statistics. The updated numbers are:

Progress on CAFO Permits (as of June 30, 2010)

Notices-of-Intent (NOI) Received

529

  • CAFOs

425

  • MAFOs

104

Compliance Schedules Received for CAFO

298

  • Compliance Schedules Executed

218

  • Compliance Schedules Under Review (Not Final)

80

Permits in Public Comment Process

6

Permits Completed Public Comment Process

9

Registered NOIs

0

Farms under 1996 General Discharge Permit for AFO

7

 

Since MDE’s CAFO permit went into effect, 529 facilities have submitted Notices-of-Intent (NOI), indicating that the facility’s operator believes it is covered by the permit requirements. According to MDE, these facilities generate approximately 85 percent of the poultry waste in Maryland. MDE noted it is “most obviously concerned” about the 127 CAFOs that do not currently have compliance schedules. MDE’s letter also points out that the agency has completed inspections of 52 CAFOs, as of June 30, 2010, exceeding their goal of 50 inspections by July 1, 2010.

I appreciate MDE’s time and willingness to provide updated information. These numbers show that Maryland is doing significantly better than the EPA statistics showed, but that it still has a ways to go. Two major points stand out: First, MDE should make this information available on its website in a format that is accessible and understandable to the public. Transparency has two components, information disclosure and information processing. MDE has taken the first step by establishing a searchable CAFO database, but it would be helpful for the public and public interest organizations for MDE to present the information in an easily understandable format. Second, while Maryland may well be the “first State in EPA Region 3 to have their CAFO Program approved by EPA,” it must continue to demonstrate leadership by attaining an inspection rate of no less than 20 percent of facilities per year, according to guidance set by the EPA.  A primary driver for compliance with NPDES permits is consistent inspections and monitoring activities, without which even the strongest permits slide by, disregarded.

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