A federal judge has decreed that manure is pollution and a danger to public health in a ruling that could make it easy to sue farmers and others that use natural fertilizer.
“This is the first case that would define manure as a solid waste,” attorney Jessica Culpepper told The Washington Times.
Culpepper represented an environmental group that sued the Cow Palace Dairy in Granger, Washington, which Culpepper alleges contaminated wells in the way it stored and used manure.
“Accordingly, Defendants’ activities are contributing to the contamination of the groundwater,” Thomas O. Rice, a United States District Judge, wrote in his opinion in Community Association for Restoration of the Environment Inc. vs. Cow Palace LLC.
Ruling Could Give EPA the Power to Regulate Manure
Rice found that the Cow Palace had violated a federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates the disposal of hazardous waste such as chemicals. It was the first time a judge had applied the law to animal waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for enforcing the RCRA, and some legal scholars believe that ruling could give the EPA the authority to regulate the use of manure. The case against the Cow Palace began when EPA testing indicated that the dairy was the source of high levels of nitrate in local water.
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If it is upheld on appeal, Rice’s opinion could be used to hold farms all over the country liable for water pollution if they use manure as fertilizer, Reuters reported. “The practices of this mega-dairy are no different than thousands of others across the country,” Culpepper told the news agency. Cow Palace is a giant dairy that has 11,000 cows that produce 100 million gallons of manure a year. The legal question now is whether the ruling could impact smaller farms.
Attorneys for the Cow Palace are planning to appeal Rice’s ruling, The Yakima Herald reported.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Manure is Pollution
“You have all of Wisconsin and probably the nation watching closely what’s going on in the Yakima Valley,” Nancy Utesch of Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Stewardship in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, told The Herald. Utesch is interested in Rice’s ruling because of a similar case in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin State Supreme Court in December ruled that manure is a pollutant and that farmers can be held liable for water pollution for using it as a fertilizer, radio station WHBL reported. In a 5-1 ruling, the justices said a farmer’s insurance company, Wilson Mutual, must pay $500 per polluted well to property owners.
A group called Midwest Environmental Advocates has petitioned the EPA to regulate manure as a pollutant, The Herald reported. The Advocates’ executive director, Kimberlee Wright, believes a federal law called the Safe Drinking Water Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate manure and fine farmers. The EPA has not responded to the groups’ petition.
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