New proposed federal rules would free some big livestock producers from the requirement to apply for permits to discharge livestock waste.

A federal court ruling led to the EPA drafting the new rules for oncentrated animal feeding perations, or CAFOs. Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, says the regulations clarify that producers have to get a permit when they believe they will be discharging animal waste into public waters, but if there’s only the potential for a discharge:

“We think this strikes an appropriate balance and allows the facilities to determine whether they’re going to have a discharge and if so, apply for a permit,” he says According to Grumbles, up to 5000 animal operations nationwide could be released from being required to obtain the permit once the new rules go into effect.

Laura Krebsbach with the Sierra Club says the rules take a “wait-until-it-happens” approach to dealing with manure spills that can pollute public waters. She says because they’ve decided that it’s only if you have the potential to discharge you have to get an individual permit, it leaves a lot of discretion up to the producer.

The EPA will hold five public meetings across the country over the next few weeks to discuss the proposed CAFO regulations, including one on July 25 in Ames.