Energy & Environment

EPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste

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A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would lift requirements for major farms to report the pollution they emit through animal waste.

The rule, released late Tuesday, spurred criticism from environmental groups who say nearby communities would no longer have access to information about harmful gasses being released into the air.

{mosads}Across many industrial farms in the U.S., animal waste is collected and stored in open pits often called lagoons. As the manure decomposes it emits ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which are linked to respiratory issues and other health problems.

People who live near farms have long complained of the odor, but they also attribute asthma, headaches, nausea and a stinging sensation in their lungs to farm pollution.  

Farms have called the reporting requirements onerous.

“I appreciate this administration’s deregulatory approach toward the American farmer and rancher, who need a reprieve from government red tape,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said in a statement lauding the rule.

The rule gives farms and the EPA the latest win in what has been a long battle between the agency, Congress and environmental groups to determine to what extent large farms must report pollution that could be hazardous to human health.

Large farms have been required to report pollution tied to animal waste since the 1980s, but the George W. Bush Administration first tried to carve out an exception in 2008. Environmental groups sued and won the resulting court battle nearly a decade later in 2017. Trump’s EPA then issued a guidance exempting farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste, which spurred more lawsuits.

Carrie Apfel, an Earthjustice attorney who helped sued over the guidance, said the group will also sue over the new rule.

She said Congress made clear under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act that this information must be passed to state and local governments so that emergency responders and neighbors know how to respond to nearby pollution.

A lot of the health impacts from farms disproportionately impact low income and communities of color, she said. People with chronic health problems are seeking medical care from doctors who are asking what they might be exposed to — information they currently can only get from the reports.

EPA has maintained that Congress intended to remove state-level reporting requirements for farm waste when it got rid of the federal ones — something environmental groups dispute.
The agency told The Hill on Wednesday that it received comments from farmers that reporting requirements for air emissions from animal waste would be confusing and unnecessary.

Farm groups issued statements hailing the new rule.

“Routine emissions from agricultural operations are not a threat to local communities,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement. “We are glad to see EPA fully implement the law by providing relief from burdensome state and local reporting requirements.”

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

Tags amonia Earthjustice Environmental Protection Agency farming Pat Roberts regulations

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