SALEM, Ohio – With air pollution accusations mounting against farms across the nation, a federal agency plans to get farmers to open themselves to scrutiny, research and governmental oversight.
This plan, announced last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would offer farmers safety from lawsuits if they agree, and pay, to participate in air pollution research.
Approved farms would pay $200 to $100,000, depending on the size of the operation, and be monitored for two years in exchange for protection from clean air violation lawsuits.
The proposal was set to be printed in the Federal Register in late January. The public will then have 30 days to comment and farmers will have 90 days to sign an agreement.
Farmers who do not sign one of these consent agreements will be vulnerable to lawsuits for past and current air pollution.
Accusations. The livestock industry is being accused of a variety of air quality violations, said Ohio Livestock Coalition Executive Director David White. The only way to address them is with research and air emissions data.
But this currently doesn’t exist.
“The only way for the research to be credible is to do it on a farm, not simulation in labs,” White said.
“CAFOs are being accused of [pollution] but scientifically we don’t know if it really exists.”
The EPA hopes to use the information it gathers over the next several years to make emissions policies for different farm types and sizes.
Off the hook? “The public needs to realize this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It won’t let them off the hook,” White stressed.
EPA will still be able to prosecute cases that pose immediate danger to public health and the environment, and the safety from lawsuits will expire shortly after the monitoring ends.
The “safety” also does not include emissions from manure land application.
In addition, state and local authorities will still be able to enforce local odor and nuisance laws.
The EPA estimates it will monitor approximately 28 swine, dairy and poultry farms across the country. It also says it will choose different types of operations in different geographic regions.
Not all farmers who sign up and pay the penalty will be monitored, however all will be granted safety from the lawsuits.
Dairy. The dairy industry in particular needs to take a hard look at these consent agreements, said Virginia Ishler, extension associate with Penn State’s Dairy Alliance.
Poultry and swine have already pledged millions of dollars to this study but dairy lags because checkoff money cannot be used for research, she said.
If dairy isn’t involved, what will the EPA use to set dairy emissions standards? Ishler asked.
“We don’t want them using random numbers,” she said.
“It’s going to happen. And as an industry, we need to ask, ‘Are we going to deal with it and how are we going to deal with it?'”
Tradeoff. Although participating farmers will pay a penalty and be open to government inspection, White said there’s a tradeoff.
They’re doing it unselfishly for the industry, he said; they know that by opening themselves up, it will benefit all farmers.
“Don’t criticize it if you don’t sign up for this program because someone has to step up to the plate,” White said.
White and Ishler agree interested farmers should contact an environmental attorney and carefully review the agreements.
It’s important farmers know exactly what they’re committing to, and possibly also admitting, before they sign up, White said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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