White HAZMAT suits. That’s what I think of when I hear the words “Superfund site.” White suits with self-contained breathing apparatus, gloves, boots.
Love Canal or, closer to Farm and Dairy’s home in Columbiana County, Nease Chemical.
Toxic chemicals. Decades of remediation efforts.
But some groups are taking a long look at large farms and whether or not part of the Superfund laws can tighten a noose of agricultural environmental regulations.
Indeed, recent court cases (Sierra Club v. Tyson Foods and Sierra Club v. Seaboard Farms) applied the Superfund notification and reporting requirements to agriculture.
A House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing Nov. 16 addressed Superfund law, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and animal agriculture.
Most specifically, CERCLA requires a facility to report if it releases hazardous substances in certain quantities not authorized by a permit. Most large farms designated as Animal Feeding Operations or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs or CAFOs) already have related permits to operate.
Hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are the substances most likely to trigger a report from a farm.
CERCLA and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, or EPCRA, provide for citizen suits if reporting violations are not enforced, which is what has happened in several courts.
The subcommittee hearing, chaired by Ohio’s Paul Gillmor, was the first look at whether current laws are the route to take for further environmental regulation of agriculture.
From the ag community, Leon Weaver of Bridgewater Dairy in Montpelier, Ohio, testified that it was the uncertainty of the law’s interpretation that most frustrates farmers.
“No one in this room can provide a clear answer to the question, ‘To what extent are agricultural operations subject to the various requirements of CERCLA and EPCRA?'” Weaver told the subcommittee.
He pointed to other testimony that indicated Congress had no intent to include manure as a substance covered by the law, but “the current provisions are not so clear.”
“I am aware of no judicial body that has answered this question,” Weaver said in his testimony. “As a result, farms are being placed at risk.”
The subject becomes complicated when you realize you’re not just talking about ground or water releases, but air emissions, which moves us into the murky subject of too little hard science on air quality and actual farm emission levels.
Right now, the EPA is just starting to collect air quality data on AFOs.
There has to be common sense injected into both side of this discussion. Yes, farmers must pay closer attention to possible ways use of fertilizer and manure and farming practices can degrade the environment. Large scale farms are dealing with huge amounts of animal waste that could potentially pollute the air, ground or water. They must bear a greater responsibility.
But farmers can’t be bludgeoned by heavy-handed environmental interpretations sought by those who would broaden the Superfund law.
Manure is not an inherently toxic substance.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)