TUCKER, Ga. — Exactly one year ago, I submitted an article to this publication titled, “Finally Closing a Chapter on Air Emissions from Poultry Farms?”
At the time it seemed like cooler heads would prevail and regulators were on a path to finally acknowledge the reporting of emissions associated with the natural breakdown of manure was unwarranted for the poultry industry, especially as it relates to notifying the federal government, the state regulatory agencies and local emergency response professionals of the release of ammonia at extremely low concentrations.
The requirement to report these emissions results from two Federal laws – The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
In short, a reporting provision in each one of these statutes is meant to alert federal, state and local emergency response officials of the release of a hazardous substances above a certain threshold so that response officials can respond, prevent or mitigate harm to the environment or the public.
Many rightfully argue that Congress never meant to regulate farming operations from emissions that are the result of natural decomposition of manure.
Congress confirmed that argument in 2018 when a bi-partisan group of Senators recognized that these type of farm emissions was never meant to be a part of CERCLA notification provisions. After passing the “Fair Agricultural Reporting Methods (FARM) Act,” the CERCLA reporting mandate was removed. Recognizing the EPRCA notification requirements are statutorily linked to the CERCLA reporting notification requirements, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule exempting farms from reporting to state and local emergency response personnel.
EPA’s legally sound exemption was immediately challenged in court. Then in 2020, the incoming administration accommodated those groups challenging the EPCRA reporting exemption by asking the Washington D.C. District Court to allow EPA to “revise or rescind” the rule. The Court agreed to EPA’s request and additionally directed the EPA to provide updates every 90 days on their progress.
Seeking to educate the new administration, USPOULTRY and other groups supporting the animal agriculture industry recently met with EPA personnel from the Office of Land and Emergency Management to provide them with a historical account of the reporting exemption teeter-totter that has occurred from 2009 until now.
USPOULTRY recounted the chaos that occurred in 2009 when a partial reporting requirement went into effect and blindsided numerous State Emergency Planning Commissions around the country. Additionally, the animal agriculture groups provided an estimate of the remarkable number of farms that would be affected by an EPCRA reporting requirement — potentially 100,000 for the poultry and egg industries alone!
It seems as if this information has fallen on deaf ears, as we very recently heard EPA will proceed with some type of EPCRA reporting requirement. As suspected, the driver for the requirement to report rested on an Executive Order issued by the Biden Administration in the first few days of coming into Office. This Executive Order mandated all agencies to review and dismantle regulations finalized in the previous four years using climate change, environmental and social justice, and a number of additional directives as the “mechanism” to do so.
When EPA will finalize the reporting requirement is uncertain, but it will likely be after the mid-term elections in 2022. What the reporting requirements will be, and how burdensome, is also uncertain. What is certain is that these reports will be nothing more than an exercise in paperwork and likely distract both state and local emergency response commissions (LEPC’s.)
The president of the National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials, an organization that supports local emergency planning and response professionals across the United States, stated in a letter to the EPA in 2017 that, “These reports are of no particular value to LEPCs and first responders, and they are generally ignored because they do not relate to any particular event.”
If and when the reporting requirements are established, USPOULTRY will communicate poultry farmer’s obligations and provide tools to support them. In the meantime, let us hope common sense returns and EPA will abandon its plan to establish a truly meaningless regulation.
Paul Bredwell is executive vice president of regulatory programs with the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association based in Tucker, Ga. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.