Renewal of the CAFO Permit Package

October 31, 2022

Jill Whitcomb, Director
Bureau of Watershed Restoration and Nonpoint Source Management
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Rachel Carson State Office Building
400 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17105

Dear Jill:

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau appreciates the opportunity to review the draft PAG-12 permit and associated documents as published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Based upon that review, we offer the following general observations..

  1. In our view, in its review and revision of the PAG-12 permit, the Department should be guided by the recognition that a CAFO permit is not intended to function as a nutrient management plan. Conservation districts review nutrient management plans to ensure that they are correct; this is not properly a DEP or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) function. The permit should be focused on covering the CAFO facility itself, not on how nutrients are managed or manure is delivered, as other mechanisms already exist to govern those activities.
  2. The addition of the “TMDL Checklist” is duplicative, needlessly isolates operations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by creating a separate checkoff for those entities, and raises questions about its workability. The checklist is to be completed by applicants that “are or will be located in a within a watershed covered by an EPA-approved TMDL” where “one or more sources of that water’s impairment is considered to be agriculture.”Farm Bureau has several concerns regarding the TMDL Checklist. First, how would an applicant determine if his operation “will be located” in a TMDL watershed? It would seem impossible to make that determination with any certainty unless a TMDL is already in the process of being imposed, because it is unlikely that an applicant would be able to expend the time and other resources necessary to assess the potential need for a future TMDL not contemplated at the time of the applicant’s seeking a new or reissued PAG-12 permit. Likewise, we are concerned that a requirement to list BMPs that may be added in the future could result in an applicant being forced to install BMPs that are no longer feasible or even necessary, given changing future conditions.

    Furthermore, the draft PAG-12 includes language stating that “No condition of this general permit releases the permittee from responsibilities or requirements under any other federal or Pennsylvania state or local statute, regulation, or ordinance”—implying that permittees in TMDL watersheds are already expected to comply with the provisions of any EPA-approved TMDL.

  3. Regarding hauling and spreading of manure, the draft would require listing the number of acres owned, the number of acres rented or leased for manure application, and the total acres available for manure application. For a CAFO permittee who exports all of his manure, the number of acres to spread on will be zero, because that land is leased to the individual who has the manure. Again, reviewing the permittee’s nutrient management plan for accuracy is not a DEP or EPA function; it is a conservation district function. Conservation districts are closest to the farmer and have a much more complete understanding of the proper course of action in each individual case.
  4. The addition of a requirement for attachment of a PPC plan to the PAG-12 notice of intent (NOI), to be implemented in the event of a mass mortality event at an operation, will be costly and time-consuming for applicants to meet. Often, the weather and other factors affect such a response, and in the event of such an occurrence, state officials will take charge of the response, and the measures chosen may not be consistent with the permittee’s plan.
  5. Pennsylvania, as other stakeholders have noted, will be the first Chesapeake Bay state to renew its PAG-12 in the context of EPA’s direction that a “connection” be demonstrated between the permit and any applicable TMDL. Given this direction, as well as the expectation that the other Bay jurisdictions will need to do the same in renewing their CAFO permits and the potential for Pennsylvania’s efforts to serve as a model for the rest of the watershed, we would ask whether or not the Department has considered, within its authority, requesting that EPA consider granting an extension of the current PAG-12 so as to ensure that the best possible product result from this process? Doing so would help to ensure continuity of business across the Bay states in terms of permit conditions and expedite the updates that will be necessary in the other jurisdictions.

In closing, Farm Bureau urges the Department to be mindful of increasing the time and cost burden on applicants to complete the PAG-12 permitting process. Additional requirements, whether they be direct obligations or actions required by reference, make the PAG-12 less and less of a “farmer-obtainable” permit, given the technical expertise necessary to complete many of its requirements. The number and type of supporting documents that DEP is expecting current CAFO operators to file with their completed NOI forms would also be expanding at a time during which Pennsylvania farmers—in all sectors of the agricultural economy—are expending growing amounts of ever-scarcer resources just to remain in business.

It is also important to note in closing that the economic, environmental, and other benefits of agriculture, including those provided by CAFOs, are realized by every Pennsylvanian, not just the PAG-12 permittee. Therefore, we also respectfully suggest that the bulk of the costs associated with issuing and administering the PAG-12 permit should not be borne by the permittee through fees, but funded instead as part of the Department’s annual operating budget.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and its members will continue their active involvement in the development of the revised PAG-12 permit as the process continues to advance. We appreciate the efforts thus far to collaborate with stakeholders in the interest of finding workable solutions for all parties concerned. Thank you for considering our comments.

Best regards,

Grant R. Gulibon
Environmental Specialist