Earlier this year, a poultry farmer sued the EPA challenging a compliance order which alleged that the farm’s operations violated the Clean Water Act. The EPA — apparently familiar with the butterfly effect — claimed that dander and dust particles from the chicken coops were spit out by a ventilation fan, that heavy rains could wash away these particles, the rainwater could flow into a ditch, and from there they could flow into a navigable water over which the EPA has jurisdiction. Ms. Alt, the owner of the poultry farm, responded that the Clean Water Act expressly exempts agricultural stormwater discharges.
In Sackett, PLF won an important victory before the Supreme Court that enabled property owners, like Ms. Alt, to challenge these threatening compliance orders in court. Ms. Alt filed her case shortly after that decision was handed down. Ms. Alt’s case is a reminder of the importance of that victory.
Ms. Alt had the compliance order — with its threats of $75,000 per day in fines — hanging over her for more than a year before the EPA decided to withdraw the compliance order last week. In its letter to Ms. Alt, the EPA indicated that its pursuit of her was no longer warranted and that it will not issue a similar order in the future, barring a significant change in circumstances or in Ms. Alt’s operations.
Ms. Alt’s suit was shaping up to be an important case for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau successfully intervened in the case and PLF was preparing to support Ms. Alt as amicus on behalf of the US Poultry and Egg Association. The American Farm Bureau Federation has issued a statement on the EPA’s change of heart:
“This is a personal victory for Lois Alt, but it should not have taken a federal lawsuit to convince EPA to withdraw an order that was illegal from the start,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “EPA’s withdrawal of the Alt order without correcting its legal position still leaves other farmers and ranchers hanging in uncertainty, vulnerable to the same threats that Ms. Alt faced.”
Now that the order has been withdrawn, the EPA is expected to ask that the case be dismissed as moot.