EPA to inspect four Vermont dairy farms

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(Host) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will inspect four dairy farms in Vermont to make sure they follow federal clean water laws.

The EPA says cutting water pollution from large farms is a top priority in New England.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The EPA recently filed suit against a large dairy farm in Maine for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.

The agency wants a court order to stop the farm from releasing manure and other waste into a nearby waterway.

In Vermont, the federal agency has put state officials on notice that it will inspect four farms this year. Agency Spokesman David Deegan says this is part of a regional focus to address water pollution from large farms.

(Deegan) “The potential for rather large amounts of animal waste and other by-products to contaminate water resources is pretty significant. And EPA does want to make certain that these farms are able to adequately control the waste and treat and do their part to help protect the waterways.”

(Dillon) Vermont Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says the federal inspections probably will be unannounced. He says he understands why the EPA would look hard at Vermont, because the state has the largest number of dairy farms in New England.

The federal government regulates large farms under the Clean Water Act. The feds call the large farms “concentrated animal feeding operations” or CAFOS.

But Wennberg says Vermont has tried for years to keep environmental oversight of dairy farms under state law.

(Wennberg) “We’re trying to get out in front of it before the federal program actually matures and gets fully settled and get agricultural operations in Vermont in compliance beforehand through the state action. It’s all designed to eliminate the need for CAFO permits and enforcement in the state of Vermont.”

(Dillon) An environmental group says the EPA inspection is a clear sign that the state program isn’t working.

Christopher Kilian is Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation. He says the state has tried to avoid meeting the requirements of federal law.

(Kilian) “But the reality is that Vermont is not complying with the Clean Water Act and not complying with the federal standards. I really expect that as EPA brings an enhanced enforcement presence to this failed program in Vermont we will see that there are continuing water pollution problems associated with large dairies in Lake Champlain and elsewhere.”

(Dillon) Last fall, the Conservation Law Foundation wrote the EPA about the Clean Water Act violations.

Kilian says the federal inspections are in response to that complaint. But Wennberg says the EPA told officials last year that the agency would inspect Vermont farms.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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