OMAHA (DTN) -- Farms are now exempt from reporting air emissions from animal waste after the EPA on Tuesday finalized a new rule amending the emergency release notification regulations under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, or EPCRA.
In April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, struck down a 2008 EPA rule that exempted large animal feeding operations from reporting air pollutants generated by animal waste.
Back in 2008, the George W. Bush administration exempted animal feeding operations from having to report ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions, in particular. At the time, the agency estimated the rule would save farms more than a million hours, more than $60 million in compliance costs and eliminate about 160,000 hours and $8 million in government costs over 10 years.
The action prompted a number of environmental groups to sue the EPA.
Prior to the Bush administration's rule, federal law required concentrated animal feeding operations and other industrial facilities to notify government officials when pollution levels exceeded public safety thresholds.
The agency's action on Tuesday drew praise from a number of agriculture groups that had been fighting for another exemption.
The National Milk Producers Federation is one of those groups.
"We are pleased with the outcome of EPA's painstaking efforts," Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said in a statement. "This final rule codifies what's been the right thing to do all along."
EPA concluded in October 2017 that air emissions from manure did not need to be reported under EPCRA, electing at the time to engage in this latest rulemaking. EPA concluded that air emissions were a result of "routine agricultural operations" and were exempt from EPCRA reporting.
A number of environmental groups led by Waterkeeper Alliance challenged the agency's 2008 decision, claiming animal feeding operations should be required to report emissions through two laws. Those laws are the CERCLA and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, or EPCRA.
The National Milk Producers Federation said in a news release it anticipates the latest rule will be challenged in court.
On March 23, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, that includes the "Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act" or the "FARM Act." That law exempts air emissions reporting from animal waste.
"This final rule provides clarity and certainty to the regulated community that animal waste emissions from farms do not need to be reported under EPCRA," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release.
"This action eliminates an onerous reporting requirement and allows emergency responders and farmers to focus on protecting the public and feeding the nation, not routine animal waste emissions."
Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the rule is important to livestock producers.
"Farmers, ranchers and emergency response officials all agree: Routine emissions from agricultural operations are not a threat to local communities," she said in a statement.
"Congress made a common-sense decision to exempt livestock producers from frivolous reporting requirements at the federal level with its passage of the FARM Act, and we are glad to see EPA fully implement the law by providing relief from burdensome state and local reporting requirements," Houston said. "Rather than submitting needless paperwork, talking to responders about potential on-farm hazards can save lives. The removal of this unnecessary burden will allow first responders to focus on real emergencies, and will allow livestock producers to focus on feeding the world."
National Pork Producers Council President David Herring said in a statement the appeals court ruling would have forced tens of thousands of livestock farmers to report emissions from manure on their farms to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center. This would have subjected farmers to citizen lawsuits.
"The pork industry wants regulations that are practical and effective, but applying CERCLA and EPCRA to livestock farms is neither," Herring said. "Pork producers are very strong stewards of the environment and have taken many actions over the years to protect it."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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