As the old saying goes; what goes up, must come down, which is why celebratory gunfire is not that great of an idea.  With that clever segue, a North Carolina court will have to decide whether the Clean Water Act (CWA) can regulate what goes up before it comes down.

The case involves Rose Acre Farms which is a large egg farm, housing over 3 millions hens near a national wildlife refuge in northeastern North Carolina.  In 2004, Rose Acre obtained a CWA permit through North Carolina’s Division of Water Quality, but not a Clean Air Act permit because airborne emissions were not above federal standards.

In 2010, Rose Acre’s CWA permit was renewed but with conditions to reduce Rose Acre’s ammonia emissions, which the state believed were settling and polluting nearby waterways.  Rose Acre appealed the new conditions to an administrative law judge who ruled that the CWA did not regulate airborne ammonia emissions.

A subsequent hearing by the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) reversed the judge’s decision and sent the case back to determine whether Rose Acre’s airborne emissions were actually polluting the water.  The EMC’s decision essentially allowed CWA regulation of airborne emissions if such emissions were polluting nearby waterways.  Thereafter, Rose Acre filed suit requesting an injunction on the EMC’s decision and a determination whether the state could regulate air emissions through the CWA.

Environmental groups, including the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation and Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, have joined the lawsuit to defend the Commission’s decision.  Both argue that Rose Acre’s airborne emissions “have serious public health implications for both the local area and the state of North Carolina.” Jerry Eatman, as quoted by Craig Jarvis at

The case is important nationally, as livestock producers and environmentalist will be looking to see whether the Rose Acre case allows Clean Water Act regulations on pollutants going up before they come down.

Stay tuned.