The EPA does not currently collect the information about the farms, which environmental groups have said is necessary to regulate the livestock operations.
“As long as EPA continues to turn an unlawfully blind eye towards this industry, our waterways and communities will never be safe,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement.
The agency initially proposed the rule in 2011 under authority from the Clean Water Act, which allows it to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations. According to the agency, there are about 20,000 of the facilities in the U.S. that house animals like pigs, chickens and cattle, sometimes in packed conditions.
The groups say that those plants can discharge pollutants like hormones, metals and antibiotics into the water.
Livestock groups balked at the original proposal, charging that it constituted a regulatory overreach that could expose farmers to harassment and attacks from animal activists. The EPA withdrew the rule last summer and has since said that it will gather information from state and other federal agencies.
The groups suing the EPA say that’s not good enough.
“The data from the states is inconsistent, incomplete and, ultimately, will not allow the agency to finally begin the process of properly regulating these highly polluting facilities,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, which is also taking part in the lawsuit.
The case is being handled by the Columbia University School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic.