DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will gather information about “factory farms” to determine whether more should be regulated as part of a settlement with environmental groups concerned about water pollution.

The EPA reached the settlement Tuesday with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2009, claiming the EPA gave too much discretion to farm operators in determining which farms needed permits to discharge waste into waterways.

The settlement requires the EPA to gather information about confined animal feeding operations that do not have discharge permits and determine whether they should be regulated.

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Jon Devine says the settlement will "give us the tools we need to determine which (farms) are polluting and how best to regulate them."

According to the Washington Post, the agency said it would propose a rule to collect information from the factory farms and would take final action on the proposed rule within two years. It will seek public comment as part of that process.

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Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.