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EPA holds outreach meeting to discuss CAFO inspection activities

By Doug Rich

INSPECTION FLIGHTS—Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 Administrator, spoke to producers about CAFO inspection activities at an outreach meeting held July 2 in Lexington, Neb. (Journal photo by Doug Rich.)

A full room greeted Environmental Protections Agency Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks at the outreach meeting held in Lexington, Neb., July 2 to discuss flights over and inspection of confined animal feeding operations.

In a letter to the Nebraska Congressional delegation dated June 11, Brooks said the primary purpose of these flights is to provide an efficient and cost-effective manner for screening large numbers of animal feeding operations to determine if a more comprehensive evaluation is required to assess Clean Water Act compliance. Brooks provided the same explanation at the Lexington meeting.

To date EPA has made six flights over Nebraska in 2011 and three in 2012. EPA also made three flights over Iowa in 2012, five in 2011, and one in 2012. These flights targeted areas with large numbers of animal feeding operations and or watersheds where the state has identified streams as impaired by contaminant often associated with animal feeding operations. Region 7 plans to do two more flights in Nebraska and two in Iowa in the federal fiscal year 2012.

Stephen Pollard, EPA Region 7 CAFO Enforcement Coordination, has been in the plane for these flights taking photos of operations with possible violations. Pollard said these flights looked at swine and poultry operations as well as beef feedlots. No enforcement actions have been taken based solely on evidence contained in aerial photographs, Pollard said.

"These flights are more of a screening process," Pollard said. "We do not write up violations based just on over flights, but the photos might be used as evidence if violations are discovered."

Brooks and Pollard said these flights are a cost-effective way to look at a number of animal feedlot operations in a short amount of time. Once they have a chance to analyze the photos they can select which operations require an on-site visit from EPA inspectors. Pollard said this way they don't have to bother producers who are in compliance.

On-site inspections can be time consuming and expensive. Brooks said a single flight costs EPA around $1,500 while a full-scale ground inspection of a CAFO including subsequent reports can be nearly $10,000.

As of June 11 there have been four Administrative Compliance Orders, two Administrative Penalty Orders, and eight Letters of Warning issued in Nebraska where aerial photograph were obtained and follow-up inspections were conducted. In Iowa the total is 25 Administrative Compliance Orders, eight Administrative Penalty Orders, and six Letters of Warning.

During the question and answer session, following presentations by Brooks, Pollard, and Trevor Urban, and EPA Region 7 CAFO inspector, they were asked why they did not use satellite images rather than photos taken from an airplane. Pollard said the aerial photos provide them with real-time data not available from other sources such as satellite imagery.

Although the flights by EPA were the main topic for the outreach meeting, the relationship between EPA and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality was discussed at length. Although NDEQ was invited to the public outreach meeting, no one from that department was in attendance. Producers at the meeting said they often get conflicting information from EPA and NDEQ.

Brooks said that he interacts with Dennis Heitman, NDEQ administrator, on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis and EPA coordinates its activities with NDEQ.

"Since NDEQ was authorized to run EPA's programs in Nebraska in the late 1970s, EPA and the state have run a concurrent programs," Brooks said. "The state is the primary authority in issuing permits and enforcement and that is the way it works with other states across the nation. But at the same time we run a concurrent program and we do inspections and enforcement. The EPA also has an oversight role to make sure the state is implementing the programs and meeting minimum standards set by EPA."

Brooks said they did talk with NDEQ senior leadership before they began making flights over Nebraska animal feeding operations. NDEQ expressed the opinion that flights over Nebraska would not be something that they would be doing if it were their decision to make.

"I can't predict the future, but I know the agency has the authority to do them," Brooks said. "They have been very useful for the agency here in this part of the country. We always have to access how we spend our scarce resources to make sure that the laws are being followed around the region."

At this time there have been similar flights in 8 of the 10 EPA regions nationally. Nebraska and Iowa are the only states in Region 7 where flights have been conducted. No flights have been done over Kansas or Missouri in the last 8 to 10 years, according to Brooks. The flights are part of a two-year program that will be evaluated at the end of that time period.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at

Date: 7/16/2012


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