CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn a water-pollution order against a West Virginia chicken farmer who countered the threat of hefty fines by suing the agency over new rules aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Charleston attorney David Yaussy said Friday that the EPA recently withdrew its order against his client, Eight Is Enough operator Lois Alt, after reviewing what he called minor changes to her Hardy County operation. Among other things, he said, they are now moving manure by conveyor instead of hand-loading it out. "But the changes were not all that significant in that the Alts had already been running a very good, very clean operation,'' he said. Alt and her husband are thrilled they no longer face possible fines of $37,500 a day for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act, Yaussy said, but it's unclear what will happen to their lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
EPA officials provided a copy of the Dec. 13 letter to Alt but did not say Friday whether they would now move to dismiss the case. Yaussy, however, said the issues underlying Alt's situation still need to be addressed in court because they could potentially affect chicken farmers nationwide, requiring them to seek discharge permits under the Clean Water Act that they don't all currently need. U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey recently allowed several environmental groups to join the litigation. Potomac Riverkeeper, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch all support the EPA's goal of cleaning up the watershed and say Alt's farm should not be exempt from the Clean Water Act. Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are major pollution sources that discharge nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal bacteria into waterways the public has a right to enjoy, they argued. Those pollutants can make waterways unsafe for swimming and trigger algae blooms that choke off oxygen, endangering fish and other aquatic life. Alt sued the EPA in June, acknowledging that there is waste-tainted runoff from her farm. But she argues it was agricultural storm water, not "process wastewater'' that would be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Last fall, the EPA determined 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 storm water and flow into ditches, eventually reaching Chesapeake Bay tributaries. The West Virginia Farm Bureau, which was also allowed to intervene in the case along with the American Farm Bureau, called EPA's action in the Alt situation "stunning.''"However, EPA has not changed their position, thus leaving other farmers in limbo regarding this issue,'' said spokeswoman Joan Harman. The bureaus still believes the EPA overstepped its authority in moving against Alt, she said, and it "cannot be allowed to continue to do so.''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.