The Department of Environmental Protection traditionally has been reluctant to take formal enforcement actions against individual farmers. There have been a variety of reasons for this, such as the perception that individual farmers lack resources to address environmental violations or that DEP lacks staff to effectively monitor farming activities. A recent case, however, highlights that under the right circumstances DEP will issue compliance orders, and potentially assess civil penalties, against a farmer for environmental violations.
In October 2017, DEP issued an order against Mark Schneider, a swine farmer in Montgomery County. DEP alleged a number of violations, including Mr. Schneider’s failure to develop a manure management plan or an agriculture erosion and sediment (“E&S”) control plan, manure and sediment runoff to the waters of the Commonwealth, the presence of an unvegetated hillside pasture causing manure and leachate runoff, and the mixing of food containers with the animal feed. DEP issued its orders after efforts to gain Mr. Schneider’s voluntary compliance failed. Among other things, the order directed Mr. Schneider to fence off certain heavy use animal areas, stabilize erosion channels, install a manure holding tank, and implement best management practices to manage stormwater. Mr. Schneider unsuccessfully appealed the order to the Environmental Hearing Board. He faces potential civil penalties for these violations.
DEP, in cooperation with many county conservation districts, has recently increased its inspections of farms, especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Farms, particularly in Lancaster and York counties, are a major source of sediment and nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. Originally, the purpose of the inspections was to verify that farmers have developed required nutrient management or E&S plans. These inspections have now been expanded to verify that farmers are actually implementing these plans. Failure to do this could lead to DEP enforcement actions similar to that directed against Mr. Schneider.