Environmentalists challenge particulate matter standards
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- The battle continues over the Environmental Protection Agency's desire to regulate ammonia emissions and dust on beef operations, said Ashley Lyon McDonald, National Cattlemen's Beef Association deputy environmental counsel.
McDonald was on hand at the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention on Nov. 12 to apprise cattlemen of the "scary" implications of EPA's intentions, in particular its efforts to regulate ammonia emissions and dust.
EPA has been pushing to regulate ammonia emissions from livestock operations using different tactics. On the front burner currently is the agency's regulation of fine particulate matter, she said.
In 1997, the agency lowered its standard for fine particulate matter to 2.5 micrograms in diameter from the previous 10. In its latest review of the standard in 2006, EPA told states they did not have to regulate ammonia as a precursor to regulating fine particulate matter.
Environmentalists then challenged that position in court, and NCBA intervened on behalf of EPA. Briefs were filed in the case last month, she said.
The agency is also proposing to lower the amount of fine particulate matter allowed, from 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 12 or 13 micrograms, with a final standard due in mid-December. Should environmentalists prevail in the ammonia case and EPA comes out with lower limits for particulate matter in the air, it'll be the perfect storm for livestock producers, McDonald said.
"I don't know what we will do to capture those emissions. It's a huge issue and one that is going to be very difficult," she said.
The cattle industry is also concerned with EPA's proposal regarding coarse particulate matter, which applies to farm dust. The agency was considering lowering the standard from 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 65 to 85 micrograms, cutting the allowable rate in half.
"There are areas in the West that can't meet 150 micrograms. It would be devastating. You'd see a ton of nonattainment areas," she said.
States with nonattainment areas would have to have an implementation plan to come into compliance that would be subject to EPA approval.
Such plans in other states require producers to follow best management practices, including such things as irrigation systems, harvesting after dark and speed limits on dirt roads. The current administration is also trying to further regulate dust so that even driving a pickup truck on a dirt road would be a problem, she said.
"We fought very hard even before it was proposed," she said.
Ahead of the election year, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson felt pressure over the issue and sent letters to Capitol Hill in October 2011, saying that she would retain the current standard. EPA's June proposal retained that standard, but whether it is retained in the final standard due out in December remains to be seen, McDonald said.
"Agriculture is a dusty industry, and it would be in the cross hairs. It could directly cause regs to be placed on cattle operations," she said.
The entire industry in the Midwest, West and Southwest would be in non-attainment, and the heart of the cattle industry would be subject to new regulations, she said.
Cattle producers also face the potential of local challenges, in which someone claims a livestock operator is violating the Clean Air Act and requests an investigation by a state agency. If a violation is found, a producer could face a fine of $32,500 a day and be forced to implement measures to resolve the issue, she said.
Ammonia emission and dust are just two of the many environmental regulations threatening the livestock industry, and McDonald sees lots of litigation in the future, she said.