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Alt v. EPA

United States District Court for the Northern District West Virginia, No. 2:12-cv-00042

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, No. 13-2200

Case Summary: AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau intervened in a lawsuit brought against EPA by West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt. Despite her exemplary-run family farm operation, EPA issued an Administrative Compliance Order in 2012 demanding that she obtain a Clean Water Act discharge permit for ordinary stormwater from the farmyard outside her poultry houses or face fines of up to $37,500 a day. Alt’s family farm is considered a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), consisting of eight poultry houses with approximately 200,000 broilers. EPA’s Order to Alt represents an effort to regulate non-discharging farmers by unlawfully narrowing the Clean Water Act’s exemption for “agricultural storm water discharges”. EPA withdrew its Order mandating that Lois Alt seek a discharge permit for stormwater runoff from her farmyard, and subsequently asked the court to dismiss the case as moot. The court rejected EPA’s efforts, agreeing with AFBF that the case should go forward because the ultimate decision on the merits will clarify the extent of Clean Water Act discharge liability and permit requirements for ordinary precipitation runoff from a typical farmyard to the benefit of Alt and all farmers. On October 23, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia became the first court to decide whether ordinary stormwater runoff from a CAFO farmyard – carrying incidental amounts of dust, feathers and manure – is “agricultural stormwater” exempt from federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. The court soundly rejected EPA’s position that the “agricultural stormwater” exemption does not apply to CAFOs other than land application areas where crops are grown. The court also rejected EPA’s argument that such CAFO farmyard runoff is “industrial stormwater” subject to EPA’s industrial stormwater regulations. The court found that runoff from Ms. Alt’s CAFO farmyard is “agricultural stormwater” exempt from Clean Water Act regulation. The court determined that it should interpret the statutory language based on the words’ common meaning and common sense. Despite efforts by EPA and the environmental intervenors to paint Alt’s farm as an “industrial” operation, the court concluded that CAFOs are “agricultural” and precipitation-induced runoff containing incidental amounts of pollutants from the farmyard is “stormwater”. The court distinguished the CAFO “production areas” – where animals, feed, and manure are maintained or stored – from the farmyard outside those areas. The court found stormwater runoff from the farmyard is exempt from federal Clean Water Act regulation so long as the discharge is caused by rainfall and not by improper practices.

Although EPA and the environmental intervenors had appealed the district court’s decision, they dropped those appeals in October 2014. AFBF had welcomed the appeal as an opportunity to secure a higher court ruling on this important issue. EPA, however, clearly did not want to risk a loss in the appellate court. Even as EPA withdrew its appeal, its public statements signaled that it will continue to enforce the same policy that the district court found unlawful.
Importance to
This case raises important national issues about EPA’s authority to regulate livestock and poultry farms and the scope of the 40-year old exemption of “agricultural stormwater discharges” from Clean Water Act permit requirements.
AFBF Role: IntervenorThe entry into a lawsuit by a third party who, despite not being named a party to the action, has a personal stake in the outcome. 
Select Filings: 2014.09.22 Environmental Appellants Motion for Abeyance of Briefing.pdf2014.09.22 New Briefing Schedule for Environmental Appellants.pdf2014.08.18 Order Amending Briefing Schedule.pdf2014.07.23 Briefing Schedule.pdf2014.07.14 Final Order Affirming Denial of Intervention.pdf2014.03.20 Notice of Oral Argument.pdf2013.12.23 CBF Reply Brief Appeal of Intervention Denial.pdf2013.12.09 AFBF Joint Brief Opposing CBF Intervention Denial.pdf2013.11.06 CBF Brief Appeal of Intervention Denial.pdf2013.10.23 District Court Order in Favor of Alt and AFBF.pdf2013.10.04 EPA Reply Brief.pdf2013.10.03 Environmental Intervenors Reply Brief.pdf2013.09.04 AFBF Joint Response and Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment.pdf2013.08.19 CBF Reply to Opposition to Amicus.pdf2013.08.19 Environmental Intervenors Opposition to CBF Amicus.pdf2013.08.08 AFBF Joint Opposition to CBF Amicus Brief.pdf2013.08.01 CBF Amicus Brief.pdf2013.08.01 EPA Motion for Summary Judgment.pdf2013.08.01 Environmental Intervenors Cross Motion for Summary Judgment.pdf2013.07.30 Order Denying Chesapeake Bay Foundation Motion to Intervene.pdf2013.07.09 AFBF Joint Opposition to Chesapeake Bay Foundation Intervention.pdf2013.07.02 Chesapeake Bay Foundation Motion to Intervene.pdf2013.07.01 AFBF Joint Motion For Summary Judgment.pdf2013.04.22 Order Denying EPA Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.04.19 AFBF Joint Surreply in Reply to EPA Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.04.09 Potomac Riverkeeper Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.04.09 EPA Reply in Response to AFBF.pdf2013.04.09 EPA Reply in Response to Alt.pdf2013.03.29 Alt Opposition to Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.03.29 AFBF Joint Opposition to Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.03.12 EPA Motion to Dismiss.pdf2013.01.17 Joint Motion to Stay Summary Judgment Briefing.pdf2013.01.07 Potomac Riverkeeper Reply in Support of Motion to Intervene.pdf2013.01.07 EPA Response to Alt's Opposition to Potomac Riverkeeper Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.12.14 Alt Opposition to Potomac Riverkeeper et. al., Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.12.06 Potomac Riverkeeper et. al., Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.10.09 Order Granting AFBF Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.09.04 AFBF Reply in Support of Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.08.13 EPA Opposition to AFBF Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.07.20 AFBF and WVFB Motion to Intervene.pdf2012.06.14 Alt Complaint.pdf