Hardy County chicken farmers talk about victory over EPA

OLD FIELDS, W.Va. — Two Hardy County chicken farmers said they knew they had to stand up against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and fight for all poultry farmers.

“All my years, I’ve been taught that, if you believe in something, you fight for it,” said Lois Alt.  Both Lois and Tony Alt were guests on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” to talk about the results of the lawsuit they filed against the EPA and won.

“It’s not just about us.  Our name is on the case, but it’s all farmers.  We have neighbors.  Here in this area of West Virginia, poultry is the industry,” said Lois Alt.

Last week, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey ruled that stormwater from the Alt Eight is Enough farm in Hardy County, and sites like it, is not subject to EPA regulation under the Clean Water Act.

In his ruling, Judge Bailey said the following:  “It appears to be a central assumption of the EPA’s position that the agricultural stormwater discharge exemption had no meaning whatsoever from the time the exemption was added to the statute in 1987 until the EPA promulgated its new regulations in 2003,” he wrote.  “This is an assumption that this Court simply cannot accept.”

In Old Fields, the Alts have eight chicken houses with ventilation fans, a shed to store chicken litter, a compost shed and feed storage bins.  Some dust, manure particles and feathers are blown by the fans into her farmyard.

When it rains, some of the runoff from the farmyard can reach Mudlick Run which then runs into the Potomac River and eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay, which is about 150 miles from the farm.

After an initial inspection in 2011, Lois Alt said the EPA inspector was complimentary.  “She said, ‘Well, I’ll have to say, this is one of the best managed and maintained farms, one of the cleanest farms, I’ve been on,'” she said.

Later that year, though, the EPA tried to force the Alts to get a permit for litter and manure washed from the property by rain and threatened them with a fine of $37,500 a day if they did not comply.

Lois Alt said they had to challenge that.  “We knew we had to stand up and fight for what we believe in,” she said.

The EPA withdrew the permit requirement for the Alts after they filed a lawsuit in 2012 in federal court that argued the discharges the EPA was focused on were exempt from the permitting process.  The Alts continued to pursue the case, though, leading to this month’s ruling, because of the possible effects on other poultry farmers.

The Alts, who have operated on the Hardy County farm property for 13 years, take pride in being good stewards of the land and said they will continue to operate that way.

“We hope to leave it better than what we find it, that’s been our goal all along,” said Lois.  “For our grandkids and their kids after,” added Tony.

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