The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US has denied two petitions from environmental groups which sought to tighten water quality and pollution regulations for "factory farms".

Yesterday (Tuesday, August 15), the Animal Agriculture Water Quality Subcommittee of the EPA announced that it had denied the petitions, which asked it to revise a set of regulations under clean water laws.

These regulations fall under the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) programme, part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The two petitions were submitted to the EPA in 2017 and 2022. In October 2022, the agency agreed to a court-approved deadline to respond to the 2017 petition.

That petition requested that the EPA address several issues around farm operator permitting, by increasing the number of operators covered by the rules, enhancing monitoring of compliance, and improving nutrient management plans.

Instead of granting the petitions, the EPA announced that it will conduct a "comprehensive evaluation" of the CAFOs programme, which would take into account the issues raised in the petitions.

As part of the evaluation, the agency will carry out a "detailed study" of CAFOs effluent limitation guidelines, as well as establishing a new federal (national) advisory committee under the existing EPA subcommittee that deals with farms, ranches and rural communities.

The EPA said that this new advisory committee will include "a diverse range" of stakeholders, which will "help to inform the EPA's efforts to improve its CAFOs programme".

The agency also said that a "comprehensive evaluation is essential before determining whether any regulatory revisions are necessary or appropriate".

"The EPA is committed to working with stakeholders, advocates, communities, and industry to explore how to achieve water quality improvements related to CAFOs," an EPA statement added.

Responding to the EPA's decision, Food and Water Watch, one of the key groups behind the 2017 petition, said the EPA decision was "deeply flawed" and "amounts to yet more delay".

The group's legal director, Tarah Heinzen, commented: "The lack of urgency displayed in the EPA's decision doubled down on the agency's failure to protect our water, and those who rely on it."

Heinzen said that Food and Water Watch would be considering options on how to proceed in response to the EPA's denial of the petition, adding: "The fight to safeguard clean water is far from over."