Federal air regs affect livestock industry

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 14, 2005
by WLJ
Pork, dairy, poultry and egg producers have until May 1 to decide whether to sign a consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
After a series of court cases, the EPA announced in January that federal air quality laws would retroactively apply to certain livestock production facilities. Applicable regulations include the Clean Air Act; Comprehensive Environmental Responses, Compensation and Liability Act; and Environmental Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act provisions.
Livestock producers need to be aware of this consent agreement with the EPA and familiarize themselves with existing EPA air quality regulations, said Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska livestock bio-environmental engineer.
"This issue may not be on producers' radar screens and could have significant ramifications," the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources engineer said. "Producers need to make an informed decision which should not be taken lightly and should be reviewed by an attorney."
"These (EPA) laws were originally meant for the smokestack industry," said John Thorne, a consultant with C&M Capitolink in Washington. Thorne and other livestock industry and government representatives spoke at a recent air quality consent agreement information meeting sponsored by Nebraska Cooperative Extension and livestock industry representatives. The meeting can be viewed on the Web at http://webvideo.unl.edu/airquality.shtml. The EPA is now applying these regulations to the livestock industry based upon recent court decisions involving livestock and poultry producers.
What's needed is a clearer understanding of how these regulations apply to animal production, he said.
To find that out, the consent agreement will allow the livestock industry and others to conduct a two-year air quality study. After the study, the EPA will produce air emission factors that will be used to compare emissions from animal facilities to existing regulatory thresholds in the Clean Air Act; Comprehensive Environmental Responses, Compensation and Liability Act; and Environmental Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Emissions that will be studied include particulate matter, such as dust, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia. The consent agreement was negotiated by pork, dairy, poultry and egg industry representatives and the EPA. The beef industry believes the Clean Air Act regulations do not apply to emissions from feedlots and have pursued alternative discussions with the EPA, Koelsch said.
Pork, dairy, poultry and egg producers who decide to fill out the consent agreement form, must send it to the EPA postmarked no later than May 1. Forms are available at www.epa.gov/airlinks/airlinks1.html.
The EPA will review the consent agreement and return it to the producer. At that time, the producer will pay a penalty ranging from $200 to $100,000, depending on size and number of farms a producer owns. This penalty would range from $200 to $1,000 for a single farm.
In addition, fees must be paid to cover the two-year study. National commodity associations for the pork and egg industries are paying this cost through check-off funds.
The consent agreement will protect producers from liability for past air quality violations and violations during the EPA study period. Producers who do not sign the consent agreement will be liable for past violations and still will be required to comply in the future. Completion of the emissions study and development of emission factors for animal production will be completed in the next five years, said Karen Flournoy of EPA Region 7.
"The fundamental question is whether or not a producer wants to sign this consent agreement with the EPA," Koelsch said.
Signing the agreement admits no wrong doing, Thorne said. However, it isn't clear who is in violation of these laws because air quality emissions from livestock and poultry facilities are unknown at this time.
The Clean Air Act includes only particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, said Joe Francis with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. However, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide soon could be added.
Under the Comprehensive Environmental Responses, Compensation and Liability Act, and Environmental Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, no more than 100 pounds of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds or particulate matter can be emitted per day. "Right now, we think the Clean Air Act will only apply to the very large producers," said Rick Stowell, a university animal environmental engineer. However, the Comprehensive Environmental Responses, Compensation and Liability Act, and Environmental Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requirements may apply to smaller farms.
"Right now we don't know where the thresholds are," Stowell said."Only estimates can be made."
The two-year study will determine what the emission factors will be. Stowell estimated a livestock facility that holds 2,000 swine could emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia per day under these two acts. However, it would likely take 10,000 to 15,000 hogs to violate the Clean Air Act provisions. These are estimates only and the actual animal thresholds determined from the two-year study could be different.
For more information about what the EPA air quality consent agreement, visit EPA's Web site at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/agreements/caa/cafo-agr-0501.html. For more information from Nebraska Cooperative Extension, including information from the recent meeting, consult Nebraska's Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning Web site at http://cnmp.unl.edu and click on "EPA consent agreement" or contact a local extension office. — WLJ