Pollution deal shouldn’t be hasty

SALEM, Ohio – Farmers need more time to decide whether they want to be part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution research, according to two Pennsylvania agricultural groups.
The plan is for farmers to let the EPA monitor air pollution on their farms. In exchange, farmers would be safe from clean air violation lawsuits. The deadline is May 1.
But the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and state Department of Agriculture say that isn’t enough time for farmers to wade through a 41-page technical document and then decide how it could affect their farms.
“No farmer wants to enter into an agreement with a government agency based on a hastily made decision,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl Shaffer.
His group is asking for at least a 90-day extension to the deadline.
Don’t count on it. “While we have suggested an extension to the EPA’s sign-up period, dairy and livestock producers should not count on it,” said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff.
This means farmers should consider the agreement now and get an attorney’s help, he said.
Clean air laws regulate pollutant emissions but livestock farms have been traditionally exempted. In recent years, however, lawsuits have claimed emissions from some farms are dangerous. The problem is that little research is available to support or deny these claims.
This recent EPA effort aims to quantify amounts of pollutants, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, that are potentially dangerous and find ways to lower them.
Peace of mind? Penn State ag economist John Becker says the agreements may offer peace of mind to farmers who fear their emissions may be high.
“You agree to do some things and EPA also agrees to do some things. You are replacing uncertainty with some degree of certainty.”
But Becker also says farmers should ask themselves whether they are willing to risk “unknown future liability.”
“Only you can decide what is best for you and your business,” he said.
Numbers. National Pork Producers Council is recommending hog producers with two deep-pit finishing barns (1,000 pigs each) should sign up, and even farms with 1,000 hogs should consider it.
Dairy operations with 100 or more cows and poultry farms with 30,000 laying hens, 10,000 turkeys or two barns of broiler chickens should think about signing up, according to the University of Missouri.
These operations have the potential to release emissions high enough that a permit may be required.
Manure storage. The key for dairy producers is to also look at manure storage, said Virginia Ishler, extension associate with Penn State’s Dairy Alliance.
Emissions are based on housing and manure storage, she said, and different storage facilities can emit different amounts of pollutants.
For example, an earthen storage pit’s typical ammonia loss is 20 percent to 35 percent. Temporary stocked manure, however, typically loses 10 percent to 20 percent ammonia, according to the University of Nebraska.
This means, a farmer with an earthen pit may want to look closer at his or her emissions, and thus the agreements, than someone with temporary stocked manure, Ishler said.
Other details. In addition to letting the EPA gather data from their farm for two years, approved producers would have to pay at least $200, depending on the number of animals and number of operations.
But not all farms that sign up and pay the penalty will be monitored.
The EPA estimates it will monitor approximately 28 swine, poultry and dairy operations in different parts of the country. The other farms will still be safe from the lawsuits.
Protection? The agreements’ protection isn’t a blanket exemption.
Farmers will still be held responsible if they pose an immediate danger. And if they are not in compliance after the two-year grace period, they can be sued.
In addition, state and local authorities will still be able to enforce local odor and nuisance laws.
There is no protection from manure land application.
Your future. “Only you can decide what is best for your business and its future,” secretary Wolff said.
“Consider the following questions: Are you willing to risk unknown future liability vs. what the [agreement] offers? Is the [agreement] an acceptable risk management tool for you?”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)
Previous related articles in Farm and Dairy:

EPA offers pollution deal to farmers (1/27/2005)

Farmers safe from lawsuits if they help with research (6/17/2005)

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