Resource at risk

Three environmental groups are suing the Bush administration over new federal rules for large-scale farms that they say aren't strong enough to stop manure from fouling the nation's waters.

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Waterkeeper Alliance announced Monday that they filed the lawsuit last week in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. It challenges the Environmental Protection Agency to review its regulations for confined animal feeding operations.

The groups are concerned that the new rules will weaken protections in the Clean Water Act and endanger public health.

"The Bush administration's rule doesn't make polluting factory farms clean up the waste that their animals produce," said Barclay Rogers, a Sierra Club attorney in San Francisco. "That contradicts our belief in cleaning up the messes you make, and violates the protections that are responsible for keeping our rivers and lakes clean."

An EPA official said the agency would review the lawsuit thoroughly before commenting.

The EPA rules require large confinements, defined as having at least 1,000 beef cattle and 2,500 swine, to obtain water-pollution permits every five years.

Some medium ones — with 300 beef cattle and 2,500 swine under 55 pounds — may be required to get one. Different head-count thresholds are set for livestock operations including sheep, chicken and turkeys.

Any farm required to have a permit also must have a plan spelling out how the farm will manage manure. Farmers are required to file annual reports summarizing their operations.

The agency plans to phase in the rules, approved in February, between now and 2006.

Forty-five states will manage the program themselves while activities in the other five states — Alaska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Mexico and the District of Columbia — will be managed by the EPA.