WASHINGTON, D.C., (DTN) -- A bipartisan coalition of 20 senators on Tuesday introduced a bill that would exempt farmers from reporting requirements for animal waste emissions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
The bill was organized by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. In a news release, Fischer noted that in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule exempting most livestock operations from the laws' reporting requirements, but that last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled EPA did not have the authority to create this exemption for agriculture.
At EPA's request, the court has delayed implementation of the reporting requirement until May 1 to allow Congress to craft a legislative solution.
Fischer said the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act would:
- Maintain the exemption for certain federally registered pesticides from reporting requirements within CERCLA.
- Exempt air emissions from animal waste on a farm from reporting requirements under CERCLA.
- Provide agriculture producers with greater certainty by reinstating the status quo producers have been operating under since EPA's 2008 final rule.
"Nebraska agriculture producers should be able to focus on doing their job of feeding the world without unnecessary distractions," said Fischer, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"These reporting requirements were designed to apply to industrial pollution and toxic chemicals, not animal waste on a farm or a ranch. Our legislation makes it clear that agriculture is exempt from these requirements and ensures producers in this country can continue to operate as they have been since 2008," Fischer said.
Without congressional action, livestock and poultry farms that emit hydrogen sulfide and ammonia emissions from animal waste in excess of 100 pounds per day will be required to report these emissions under CERCLA, explained Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. This threshold translates to farms with roughly 200 head of cattle or a pig farm with two swine finishing barns that would potentially be subject to the reporting requirement, he added.
"I've heard from Kansas farmers and ranchers that, unless Congress acts, they will be subject to another burdensome and unnecessary regulation that costs time, money and paper work," Roberts said. He added, "In fact, more than 100,000 operations across the nation would be forced to abide by this reporting requirement that was never intended to affect agriculture."
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said, "This bipartisan effort would give more clarity to livestock producers and support the men and women who are the backbone of our farm economy."
The National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, and United Egg Producers said in a joint statement, "This is significant breakthrough legislation restoring CERCLA reporting to its intended purpose, a united legislative effort that has been nearly 15 years in the making, and we appreciate their swift action on behalf of America's turkey, chicken and egg farmers."
The poultry groups also hope a companion version of the FARM Act will be introduced soon in the House.
"CERCLA was never intended to be applied in this way to dairy farms," said National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern. "Congress needs to stipulate that this burdensome regulatory overreach serves no legitimate health or safety purpose, and needs to stop."
Congress enacted Superfund and emergency response laws to provide the tools needed to quickly respond to hazardous waste emergencies. Emissions from animals raised on farms and ranches were never intended to be swept into these reporting requirements, said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said.
"We urge Congress to act swiftly to pass this legislation before the reporting requirement overwhelms our first responders and burdens farmers and ranchers with needless reporting obligations and the risk of activist lawsuits," Duvall said.
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Barbara Glenn said it was never the intent of Congress to regulate animal agriculture operations under the Superfund law.
"We applaud this commonsense, bipartisan effort by these senators to restore certainty for farmers under CERCLA," Glenn said. "The farms and ranches producing our food and fiber should not be regulated as toxic Superfund sites. We urge the Senate to swiftly act on this bill before new reporting requirements begin on May 1."
National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Kevin Kester, a California rancher, noted there are not a lot of truly bipartisan efforts in Washington these days, "but one thing that pretty much everybody can agree on is that a responsibly-run cattle ranch isn't a toxic Superfund site," Kester said.
"On behalf of cattle producers across America, I want to sincerely thank the senators from both parties who worked together to introduce this bipartisan bill. I also want to encourage other senators to join the effort and pass this bill as quickly as possible," Kester said.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said the appeals court ruling would have forced more than 100,000 livestock farmers to "guesstimate" and report the emissions from manure on their farms to the Coast Guard's National Response Center, "and would have subjected them to abusive and harassing citizen suits from activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States."
"Routine emissions from hog manure do not constitute a 'hazardous' emergency that requires the Coast Guard to activate a national cleanup response," said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Illinois. "EPA exempted farms from CERCLA reporting because it knew responses would be unnecessary and impractical. Frankly, the court created a problem where none existed."
NPPC also said that the appeals court's April 2017 decision originally set a Nov. 15, 2017, deadline for as many as 200,000 farms to report emissions, but that after petitions from EPA supported by NPPC motions, the court twice delayed that deadline, with the most recent postponement until May 1.
NPPC said that some farmers tried filing reports Nov. 15, but the National Response Center (NRC) system was overwhelmed. NPPC noted the NRC operators refused to accept reports from single farms because they did not want their phones tied up. After receiving a report from a farm, an operator sent notices to more than 20 state and federal response authorities, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a state police agency, NPPC said.
"The pork industry was prepared to comply with the reporting mandate," Maschhoff said, "but EPA, the Coast Guard and state and local emergency response authorities said they didn't want or need the information, which could have interfered with their legitimate emergency functions."
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at email@example.com
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