The phone rings at the fire station.
“Hello, fire department, how can I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to report a cow pie.”
“A cow what?”
“A cow pie. You know — it’s what cows produce. Feed goes in one end, and cow pies come out the other.”
“Sir, why on earth would we at the fire department care what your cows do? Unless there’s a fire or an immediate threat to public safety, please don’t call. We have important things to do.”
“Didn’t you hear? We’re required to report dangerous emissions to the fire department. Cows poop — and they burp and pass gas — and we need to inform emergency responders like you and the police.”
While this fictitious exchange between a farmer and the fire department seems more than a little crazy, an environmental group argues that it’s important to “inform the public” about the emissions cows produce. They say that’s the law and, by golly, that’s what farmers should do — in spite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sees no reason for it.
The EPA maintains that the purpose of the law is to alert communities to dangerous chemicals that can cause an imminent threat to public safety. According to the EPA, that would not include cow manure or flatulence.
We agree. No one in his, or her, right mind would require such a thing.
“It seems to be silliness run amok,” Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said. He hopes an appeals court in Washington, D.C., will reject the effort by the New-York-based Waterkeeper Alliance to force farmers, ranchers and other livestock owners to report to fire departments and police the fact that cows poop. The Alliance says it’s part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.
It’s bad enough the circuit court will require some larger feed lots and ranches to report gas emissions under the Superfund law. This will cost them nearly $15 million and accomplish approximately nothing.
The EPA argues the right to know law is not aimed at farm-related substances such as manure. Rather, it was aimed at protecting communities against massive chemical leaks such as the one that occurred in 1984 in Bhopal, India, killing thousands of people.
“Any substance to the extent it is used in routine agricultural operations or is a fertilizer held for sale by a retailer to the ultimate customer” is exempt, according to the law. By our lights, that includes cow manure.
We assume the appeals court will come to understand that, too. After all, judges are used to dealing with that sort of substance, especially in this case.