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Food & Water Watch v. United States Department of Agriculture

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20077
Nos. 17-1714 (BAH), (D.D.C., 03/26/2020) (Howell, J.)

A district court denied summary judgment to an environmental group in a challenge to the USDA Farm Service Agency's (FSA's) EA for a loan guarantee to construct and operate a poultry concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Maryland. The group first argued that FSA violated NEPA by improperly relying on mitigation measures found in the CAFO's draft facility design and operational plans. The court found that NEPA permitted reliance on draft mitigation plans in appropriate circumstances, and that here FSA acted reasonably in deferring to the state regarding finalization of the plans and thus reasonably relied on the CAFO's draft measures given the state's timetable. The group next argued that FSA failed to take a hard look at the CAFO's impacts on, among other things, surface water, groundwater, and air quality. The court found the agency properly relied on federal and state standards when it analyzed the impacts of surface water and groundwater, and sufficiently considered air emissions related to poultry litter and mortality management. The group also argued that FSA failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives. The court found the agency satisfied NEPA by adopting an objective that aligned with the purpose of its farm loan program and the preferences of the CAFO's owner before evaluating reasonable alternatives to the owner's proposal and ultimately finding them lacking. It therefore denied the group's motion for summary judgment.