The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided not to appeal a federal ruling that sided against the EPA and favored West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt. The federal court in October 2013 ruled that the EPA had no legal right to force Alt to obtain water pollution permits for litter, dust and feathers that may wash away and that runoff is not in violation of the Clean Water Act.

 “Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation]. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA, wrote in a blog. “A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.”

The dispute between Alt and the EPA dates back to 2011, when the agency threatened to fine Alt if she didn't seek a permit for her farm. The order said Alt would have to pay $37,500 in fines each time stormwater came into contact with dust, feathers or small amounts of manure outside of her poultry houses.

Alt responded by filing her own legal challenge to the agency in June 2012. The EPA eventually withdrew the fines, but with the help of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the West Virginia Farm Bureau, Alt kept her case alive.

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AFBF, while pleased that the EPA wouldn’t appeal the ruling, said it was confident that Alt would have prevailed if the agency had pressed on. 

“By dropping its appeal, EPA presumably hopes to avoid a loss in the appellate court. EPA appears to be saying it will continue to enforce its position against other farmers, even though it’s not willing to defend that position in court,” said Ellen Steen, AFBF general counsel.

AFBF President Bob Stallman added: “For most of us, standing firm doesn’t mean walking away just because you are afraid you won’t like the outcome. EPA might call that smart and strategic, but I call it cynical and cowardly. Lois Alt should be proud of her environmental stewardship and her courage in standing up to EPA. She won an important court victory that will benefit many others, and we are proud to have supported her efforts.”