Victory! The New York Supreme Court has struck down the General Permit for large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that was issued by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The New York Supreme Court has ruled in FAVOR of environmental and conservation organizations represented by environmental law firm EarthJustice.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or factory farms, are basically environmental disasters. These facilities are known for their massive cesspools, used to store the thousands of pounds of waste produced by the animals on the property. There is often more “manure” than can even be spread on fields nearby and these holding pools often crack and leak waste into groundwater. Nitrates, dangerous microbes, and drug-resistant bacteria can all be found in this waste and lead to a significant risk of water pollution. When these by-products get into local waterways, they cause toxic algae blooms which lead to “dead zones” and massive fish kills. High levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause spontaneous abortions and blue baby syndrome and bacteria outbreaks from agricultural water pollution is responsible for several disease outbreaks across the United States. Bottom line, you do NOT want to live anywhere near one of these facilities.


According to a press release from the groups of environmental groups pushing to deny the General Permit, including C-OFOKLAEarthjustice, Riverkeeper, Sierra ClubTheodore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc., and Waterkeeper Alliance, given that these cesspools and practices of spreading the waste on fields pose a significant risk of water pollution, the Clean Water Act requires CAFOs to obtain a permit. Under federal law, a CAFO permit must include the facility’s “nutrient management plan” setting forth how it will manage its waste so as not to pollute waters.

As Waterkeeper notes, under federal law, the CAFO permit must include the facility’s “nutrient management plan,” identifying how the CAFO will manage its waste as to not pollute waters. The Supreme Court stated that the General Permit failed to comply with the fundamental requirements of the federal Clean Water Act related to agency oversight and public participation in the permitting process, so it was rejected.

The Supreme Court also highlighted that the average New York dairy CAFO has over 950 cows, producing 110,000 pounds of animal waste PER DAY. Towns and cities have sewage treatment plants that are strictly regulated and tested to create a non-polluting discharge, but instead, animal waste on CAFOs are NOT monitored and can be disposed of in close proximity to public drinking water supplies. In 2015, there were over 40 documented cases of water contamination caused by CAFO animal waste, so clearly, any measure to limit the knowledge about what is being released from farms and consequently limit regulation could be devastating to the public.

“It’s DEC’s responsibility to protect New York’s waters, and the public has a right to make sure that DEC is doing its job. The Court recognized that DEC cannot outsource environmental protection to private planners paid for by industrial agriculture and keep pollution prevention plans secret from the public. We are glad the Court upheld transparency, one of the central mandates of the Clean Water Act,” said EarthJustice Attorney Suzanne Novak, who served as counsel on the suit.


No matter how you look at it, the dairy industry comes at a high cost to the environment. It takes an entire month’s worth of showers to produce just one gallon of milk, with a dairy farm of 700 cows emitting 350,000 liters, or 325,500 pounds, of methane pumped into the atmosphere every day. The factory farm industry has gotten away with far too much when it comes to damaging the environment and endangering public health. It is great to see the Supreme Court recognize this and take action to limit and regulate their outputs. This isn’t just about making milk and cheese, it’s about keeping people safe.



Want to learn more about the environmental impact of factory farms and the dairy industry? Grab a copy of the new #EatForThePlanet book!


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