MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A West Virginia chicken farmer is suing the EPA to stop it from imposing wastewater rules on her farm as part of a multi-state effort to clean up Chesapeake Bay.
Lois Alt, owner of Eight is Enough farms in the Old Fields section of Hardy County in the state's Eastern Panhandle, argues the EPA has overstepped its authority by ordering her to stop polluting streams and obtain discharge permits under the federal Clean Water Act.
Alt says any waste-tainted runoff is agricultural storm water, not "process wastewater,'' and that means it's not subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.
"The only water that runs off the farm is water that falls as precipitation on the roofs or on the farm yard,'' her lawsuit maintains.
The complaint, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Elkins, asks Judge John Preston Bailey to set aside the EPA's order. Alt could face civil penalties of up to $37,500 a day if found in violation of what she calls an arbitrary, capricious and illegal action.
The EPA hadn't filed a response as of late Tuesday. Agency spokesman David Sternberg said it's reviewing the lawsuit "and will respond appropriately.''
Its order last fall said that dust, feathers and fine particles of dander and manure from Alt's poultry house ventilation fans could land on the ground, come into contact with stormwater and flow into ditches, eventually reaching Chesapeake Bay tributaries. The EPA is focused on protecting the watershed, which encompasses parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and all of the District of Columbia.
EPA issued similar orders at three other farms in Hardy and Pendleton counties last fall following inspections at five chicken and turkey operations. The others are in Moorefield, Mathias and Fort Seybert.
It's unclear whether those farmers plan to challenge the order.
The EPA said each farm qualified under federal law as a concentrated animal feeding operation but had neither applied for nor obtained the required discharge permits.
Alt told the EPA in late November that she would seek a permit but informed the agency in February that she'd changed her mind.
She runs eight poultry houses and has other structures under roof for storing dry litter, fresh bedding material, feed, compost and equipment.
She moves about 125,000 chicks and chickens through the houses in a year, shipping them out after about six weeks. The lawsuit says litter is removed from the houses at that time and taken to covered sheds.
"The few spills that occur are cleaned up as soon as possible,'' Alt said, and neighboring farmers who take the litter for use on their farms load it on a concrete pad that is promptly cleaned.
The West Virginia Farm Bureau is supporting Alt's lawsuit through its legal defense fund.
"If this is allowed to continue, then it opens a door for more of these EPA inspections to take place and more intimidation of these farmers by the EPA,'' said spokeswoman Joan Harman. "They do not have authority under the Clean Water Act to do this.''
The Farm Bureau says Alt is a responsible operator whose practices have won Pilgrim's Pride Environmental Stewardship Award.
Before the bureau got involved, Harman said, it sent inspectors to review the operation.
"They came back just amazed,'' she said, "because they thought the facility was extremely clean and extremely well taken care of.''