WASHINGTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency did not violate federal law when it withdrew its proposed information reporting requirement for industrial livestock operations, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss decided against five environmental groups who claimed that the EPA failed to adequately explain its reasoning in lifting the rules as per the Administrative Procedure Act.
As part of its responsibility to enforce the Clean Water Act, the EPA proposed two rules in 2011 that required concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to provide information on their facilities due to the large impact that CAFOs have in releasing pollutants to water sources.
The EPA ultimately decided to lift the rules after it determined that they were not an efficient means to reduce pollution or even generate information about pollutants, especially when taking an approach to use existing data from state agencies produced information without placing the burden on CAFOs.
The plaintiffs estimated that there were as many as 24,304 CAFOs nationwide. Of those, about 18,000 are required to have permits, but only about 8,000 have them.
Moss agreed that the rule may not have been effective when considering that most permitted CAFOs already do not comply with reporting and permitting requirements.
"They are already required to provide the relevant information to state or federal regulators, but have failed to do so," he wrote.
Moss also argued that because there was no mandate requiring all CAFO's to self-report and that the Clean Water Act allows the EPA to use its own discretion in requiring information, therefore, it was not the place of the courts to make that determination.
"The Court will not substitute its judgment about how the EPA should go about collecting information for the Administrator's reasonable determination of what is appropriate to effectuate the Agency's statutory mandate," Moss wrote.
The original rules estimated that it would only require one hour of time every 10 years and would require no direct costs to the state, but that understated the burden to CAFOs in rural areas that lack internet access. It also understated the burden of state governments would have had to field compliance questions on behalf of the EPA.
The EPA along with state governments would have had to expend resources to answer questions and gather information for CAFOs that could have otherwise been spent on conservation projects.
"Absent a statutory standard, it is not the Court's role to second-guess the Agency's policy judgments about which tools are most likely to work or the burden that they may impose on regulated parties," Moss wrote.
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