Pruitt cuts EPA CAFO reporting saying there is no way to calculate emissions
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt took a stand next to cattle producers, denying a petition brought by environmental activist groups hoping to add more regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations under the guise of the Clean Air Act.
The EPA decision, posted in the Federal Register, answers a petition filed in 2009 by the Humane Society of the United States and other activist groups. While CAFOs could still be regulated at some point, the topic is on the back burner for now, primarily because of a lack of measuring ability.
Last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit eliminated the EPA’s exemption rule for CAFOs, along with other large-scale livestock producers, requiring them to report emissions on the release of hazardous substances, including waste.
The court’s decision could have had a huge effect on producers, according to Scott Yager, environmental council with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“There is no official formula to calculate,” Yager said, relating to the reportable quantity (RQ) limits.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) both require notification of release of any hazardous substances, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. EPA has the authority to investigate and remediate the release of any hazardous substance, but the original rule was designed for emergency situations, Yager said.
The 2008 rule allowed for an exemption from CERCLA reporting requirements for releases to the air, from animal waste, at livestock facilities. It also exempted all livestock operations, except for CAFOs, from EPCRA reporting requirements.
The court’s decision was a big win for environmentalists, but Pruitt took the opposite stance.
NO WAY TO MEASURE
In a letter to petitioners, Pruitt acknowledged livestock are potential sources of air pollutants. The agency, however, doesn’t have a reliable method for estimating animal emissions. Until it does, new rules could be unjustified and ineffective, according to Pruitt.
“Once the agency has sufficient information on CAFO emissions, it will determine the appropriate regulatory approach to address those emissions,” he said.
Yager pointed out that environmental activists groups such as Waterkeeper Alliance, the petitioner on the court order, have been working to get a clearing house of CAFO and producer data for years and this order opens that door. According to Land Grant University research, producers with as few as 208 head may exceed the limits and be required to report, Yager said. “That would include thousands of producers.”
Waterkeeper Alliance sent a letter last year, following Pruitt’s appointment. “As EPA attempts to carry out the Trump administration’s “regulatory reform” priorities, it is becoming more and more apparent that EPA may only be seeking meaningful engagement with a narrow subset of stakeholders, most notably, big industry and rich, corporate entities,” the group shared on its website, along with the letter.
The group, which boosts big-name industry partners, including Levis, Toyota, Paul Mitchell and Patron, has a “Pure Farms, Pure Waters Campaign,” which addresses what they consider, “the failure to regulate pollution from industrialized swine, poultry and dairy facilities that is devastating rivers, lakes and estuaries, while educating the public and decision makers about the impacts of and alternatives to industrialized livestock operations, supporting communities and local farmers, and advocating for sustainable food systems.”
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