On July 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a funding bill amendment introduced by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) that prohibits the EPA from using the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 to protect drinking water from concentrated animal feeding operation-related manure pollution. The amendment came in response to a precedent-setting 2015 legal decision in which a federal judge in Washington found that improperly managed manure may be regulated under RCRA when it presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.

The amendment attempts to change the law and undercut the 2015 decision, which affects only those CAFO operators who have failed to properly manage the large amounts of manure they produce. Rep. Newhouse states that his amendment does not affect Clean Water Act regulations. However, in his home state of Washington, the Clean Water Act CAFO General Permit expired in 2011 and applies to an absurdly low one percent of CAFOs. In addition, the expired CAFO permit did nothing to prevent the massive ground water contamination caused by the over-application of manure and leaking manure lagoons.

“It is shameful that a U.S. Congressman who is supposed to represent the people is instead kowtowing to an industry that has polluted thousands of people’s wells in the Yakima Valley and tens of thousands more nationwide,” said attorney Charlie Tebbutt, whose legal advocacy resulted in the landmark court decision. “This manure bill shows that Rep. Newhouse does not understand the simple scientific principles at issue and his bill flatly contradicts the plain language of the 1976 law that was intended to prevent this contamination in the first place.”

The inability of regulatory agencies to enforce the Clean Water Act against CAFOs is well documented in EPA studies, Department of Ecology studies and court cases. The Lower Yakima Valley is plagued with nitrate pollution, largely from industrial dairies. An EPA study found that 48 percent of drinking water samples from homes near CAFOs exceeded the maximum nitrate contaminant level. Additionally, a 2013 Washington Department of Ecology study of the dairy-dense, nitrate-contaminated Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in Whatcom County found agriculture responsible for 97 percent of soil nitrates there.

“Managing manure as the harmful waste it truly is depends on our ability to use the law as it was intended,” said Andrea Rodgers, a Western Environmental Law Center attorney. “This is a back-door attempt to subvert one of our bedrock environmental laws. Trading public health for profits is no way to govern in Washington state or in Washington, D.C.”

Helen Reddout, president of Community Association for Restoration of the Environment and lead plaintiff in the decades-long struggle to bring justice and clean water to the Yakima Valley, stated “Rep. Newhouse has again shown that he is a pawn of the dairy industry. He should be passing legislation helping EPA to do their job to protect the people who suffer from industrial dairy pollution, not seeking to prevent them from doing so.”

Read more about WELC’s sustainable agriculture work here.

Charlie Tebbutt, Attorney, Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, 541-285-3717,
Andrea Rodgers, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 206-696-2851,
Helen Reddout, President, Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, 509-854-1662

Read more about our sustainable agriculture work.

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