A court mandate to report that decaying manure is releasing hazardous gas will expose farmers to penalties and interfere with responding to actual emergencies, national farm leaders told a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said he would welcome Congress nullifying a D.C. Circuit Court decision to make farmers report livestock emissions to the Coast Guard.
“It’s a big issue across farmland,” Duvall said to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We applaud the senators getting involved in trying to fix something that is wrong.”
The committee hearing was on the broad topic of how regulations affect agriculture. Many of the questions and comments from senators were about the D.C. court’s decision, due to take effect May 1.
The court sided with environmental groups and applied the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to agriculture. Livestock operations that emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in a 24-hour period will have to register with the Coast Guard’s National Response Center. The center coordinates federal emergency responses to chemical leaks and spills.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., called the court’s decision “unfortunate” and said he expects colleagues to introduce a bill to affirm that Congress didn’t intend for the 1980 act, commonly known as the Superfund law, to cover agriculture.
National Pork Producers Council President Howard Hill said the trade group “would support that bill 100 percent.”
“We don’t consider farming and the emissions from a farm an emergency. It’s an everyday process, and we ask ourselves, ‘Who wants this information?’ In some cases, it’s advocates who don’t want livestock production, and they can misuse that information,” he said.
The court ruled last year, but has granted several delays to give the Environmental Protection Agency time to prepare farmers to register their livestock as continuously releasing gas. The rule will affect an unknown number of farms. Estimates range from about 45,000 to more than 200,000. The EPA says there is no generally accepted way to calculate emissions.
Failing to report a range of emissions, however, can be punished with fines of up to $50,000 a day. The act also allows citizen lawsuits to force compliance.
“It would put our farmers at risk,” said Duvall, a beef and poultry producer. “You know I have 400 momma cows that have calves spread out over 1,500 acres in Greensboro, Georgia. How in the world am I going to monitor that? How am I going to report that? And then I have four chicken houses. How am I going to report the emissions of those animals? It puts us at a big liability. There is no need to do it.”
Farms that meet the threshold will not be required to reduce emissions. The court agreed with environmental groups that having the information on file could be useful to first responders investigating foul odors.
Duvall said requiring tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of producers to report will burden the Coast Guard. He said he also was concerned about the details that farmers will have to disclose about their operations.
“The individual farmer will have to give up his personal information, where he lives, and that exposes him to being harassed by activists all around, and don’t think that’s not happening because it does happen,” he said.