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EPA set to propose rule on wastewater from processing facilities
 
By Doug Schmitz
Iowa Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several national farm groups recently met with White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs officials to discuss concerns over the EPA’s newly proposed rule on wastewater from meat and poultry processing facilities.
The measure, which is set to go into effect this month, would require meatpackers and processors to install millions of dollars of upgrades to their wastewater management systems.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) told White House officials the costs would be burdensome for small- and medium-sized operations, potentially jeopardizing their existence, while larger operations may be forced to slow production during implemented upgrades.
“Pork producers are already facing one of the worst economic crises in generations,” Michael Formica, NPPC chief legal strategist, told Farm World. “Any regulation that is going to disrupt markets, such as this one, will cause further drastic harm.
“What the EPA seems set to propose is going to have a significant impact on the packing and processing industry,” he added. “This, in turn, will be disastrous for producers who rely on those packing facilities. Small processors fear they will not be able to afford to make the changes the EPA requires.”
For producers in lower production states, he said, “It will result in them losing their market for hogs. For larger plants, the changes will require temporary shutdowns and/or potential decrease of volumes as the plants seek to replace existing storm water systems.”
He said any disruption to line speeds at those plants will have a catastrophic impact on the flow of pigs, causing backlogs on farms and supply chain disruptions.
He added the proposal is in direct conflict with the White House’s policy to encourage the growth and development of additional packing and processing capacity – especially small and custom shops.
“The administration has awarded millions of dollars to help get these projects off the ground to start serving America’s independent livestock farmers, including pork producers, and these regulations threaten to undermine those efforts,” he said.
Joining Formica in discussions with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs officials were representatives from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, and the North American Meat Institute.
Paul Bredwell, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association executive vice president of regulatory programs, told Farm World, “We used this meeting to point out cost estimates the agency shared during earlier informational meetings, for various treatment technologies were significantly underestimating costs of with questionable environmental benefits.
“Additionally, we shared that impacts of the rule are particularly burdensome for small- to medium-sized processing operations, and may financially limit their ability continue operating,” he said.
“We pointed out that from a small business burden standpoint, the rule is dramatically misaligned with the one of the most important White House priorities for animal agriculture, which is to expand small- and medium-sized independent meat and poultry processors,” he added.
He said the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association stressed the need for the EPA to understand the unique relationship that exists between indirect discharge facilities and the municipal wastewater treatment plants in which the facilities discharge.
“We expressed concerns that if the rule establishes the low thresholds we expect, it could disrupt the publicly owned treatment works’ ability to successfully meet its own regulatory requirements under the Clean Water Act,” he said.
He added that this is because “it will interfere with the municipality’s ability to maintain the required concentration of bacteria in their treatment systems that are necessary to treat wastewater passing through the public wastewater treatment plant.”
Last month, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, (R-Neb.), a member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, led a letter with seven of her Senate Republican colleagues to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, saying, “As you know, small- to mid-sized meat and poultry processing facilities have a vital role in the economy.
“This was proven throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when these facilities remained open while large facilities were closed,” the senators said. “Additionally, many federal resources have been used to expand meatpacking capacity, so we need to ensure that these very small and small facilities do not face regulations that will force them to close.”
In addition to Fischer, the Nov. 3 letter was signed by Republican U.S. Sens. Mike Braun, of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis, of Wyoming, Pete Ricketts, of Nebraska, Joni Ernst, of Iowa, Mike Crapo, of Idaho, James Risch, of Idaho, and John Barrasso, of Wyoming.
The senators asked Regan to explain what testing and data has been collected from very small and small processing facilities, as well as outline the number of small processing facilities with which it has engaged while drafting its proposed revisions.
“As the EPA seeks to update meat and poultry products wastewater regulations, we strongly encourage you to work with very small and small meat and poultry processing facilities to certify that any new regulations are practical, science-based, and don’t create an unnecessary burden for the continued operations of these facilities,” the senators concluded.
Chris Young, American Association of Meat Processors executive director, said, “We are happy for the support of Sen. Fischer as we await the newly proposed rule from the EPA on wastewater. From the information we have seen from the EPA, the proposed rule could have a major impact on the meat industry, and especially small processors who offer vital services to farmers and consumers in rural communities across the country.”
The EPA said it intends to publish a final rule by August 2025.
12/5/2023