MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A West Virginia chicken farmer said Tuesday it was time for a federal judge to decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency has legal authority to make poultry growers obtain water pollution permits for storm water runoff from their operations.Lois Alt, owner of the Eight Is Enough farm in Hardy County, has been battling the EPA for a year over rules it imposed and fines it threatened to levy against her for polluting the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The violations and fines were rescinded, but neither Alt nor the West Virginia and American Farm Bureaus wants to let the case die.They say EPA's action must be declared an illegal overreach or other farmers in the region will suffer.U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey has previously denied EPA's motion to dismiss. The agency has until Aug. 1 to respond to the latest filing.Bailey said the case should proceed because the EPA hasn't changed its underlying position that some chicken farms are "concentrated animal feeding operations.'' That would mean the EPA can require them to obtain permits they've never previously needed under the Clean Water Act.He noted EPA has issued orders to two other farmers in West Virginia and Virginia virtually identical to the one issued against Alt.
The West Virginia Farm Bureau, which represents some 24,000 members, said Tuesday it continues to stand with Alt."Lois Alt understands the risks she has taken to bring this case to court,'' said President Charles Wilfong. "However, she believes -- as we do -- that the EPA is exceeding its authority under the Clean Water Act, and any decisions made by the court will affect all farmers everywhere.''Although EPA did withdraw Alt's violations, Bailey noted in his April ruling it did not explain the basis for its change of heart. Nor is Alt's mere compliance with the agency's demands enough to render the case moot.The EPA said dust, feathers, and fine particles of dander and manure from Alt's chicken farm could land on the ground, come into contact with storm water and flow into ditches, eventually reaching Chesapeake Bay tributaries. The watershed encompasses parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and all of the District of Columbia.Alt acknowledged there is waste-tainted runoff from her farm but argued it was agricultural storm water, not "process wastewater'' that would be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.