Unless a federal court grants a reprieve, beginning Nov. 15 some livestock producers will have to report that their cows, poultry or pigs are continuously releasing manure gases.
The rule, a product of a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, will affect producers whose animals give off more than 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in 24 hours.
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said producers should get written confirmation from the EPA that they met the reporting requirement. “Put it in a lock box, give it to a lawyer, frame it on the wall, so you can say, ‘I reported it,’ ” he said. “An environmental attorney wants to come after you, and you don’t report, that’s a problem.”
The reporting will be required under two federal laws intended to identify Superfund cleanup sites and to help communities plan for chemical emergencies. The EPA has been arguing since 2008 that applying the laws to livestock manure would be impractical and useless.
The U.S. Circuit Court for the District Columbia disagreed. Last spring, it ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental groups led by the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based organization founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The three-judge panel dismissed EPA’s claim that it was unlikely federal or local authorities would ever need to respond to gases from decomposing manure dispersing into the air. The court decided that pumping manure from pits can release hazardous gases and that local firefighters need the information on file to find sources of reported smells, especially at night in the dark.
The EPA filed a motion Monday asking the court to delay the reporting requirement until mid-January. The agency says it would use the two months to develop a reporting form easier for farms to use.
There is no generally accepted way to estimate emission volumes, according to the EPA. “Estimating emissions is complex given the numerous variables involved, and a more user-friendly form for farms should help promote reporting,” EPA’s motion states.
The agency also said it would come up with a plan for handling a large number of calls to the National Response Center, the first step in meeting the reporting requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard staffs the center and takes emergency calls reporting chemical releases.
Waterkeeper Alliance opposes the two-month delay, according to court records, though it has yet to file a response to EPA’s motion. Efforts to obtain additional comment from Waterkeeper were unsuccessful.
The EPA last week issued worksheets to help producers calculate whether they have enough animals to meet the reporting threshold. Gordon said that producers are coming up with widely different numbers depending on which worksheet they use.
An estimate of how many animals will trigger the requirement was unavailable from the EPA on Wednesday.
“This is going to be a frustrating, bureaucratic process,” Gordon said.
The other groups that sued the EPA are the Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, the Environmental Integrity Project and Center for Food Safety.
The federal laws at issue are the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.