Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Published by University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Livestock Environmental Issues Committee.


A Brief History and Background of the EPA CAFO Rule

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules affecting animal feeding operations (AFOs) have evolved from the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act (CWA). Section 502 of the CWA specifically defined “feedlots” as “point sources” along with dozens of other industries such as meat processing and fertilizer manufacturing. The goal of the 1972 CWA was to restore “fishable, swimmable” quality of lakes, streams, and estuaries in the United States.
A federal permit program termed the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was created for point sources that discharged into “waters of the United States.” The EPA regulations that ensued from the 1972 CWA were singularly focused on the main issue of surface water protection, and the rules developed for the “feedlots” point source category were no exception. This twostep, rule-making process addressed first, the design/operating criteria through industry-specific water quality protection rules (adopted in 1974) termed Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and second, (adopted in 1976) definitions as to which livestock and poultry operations constituted a point source (termed a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO) and therefore became subject to the NPDES permit program. Obviously, CAFOs have been regulated by federal rule through the NPDES or equivalent state permits since the mid-1970s.