The Environmental Protection Agency has given swine, dairy and poultry producers more time to decide if they want to sign voluntary "air quality consent agreements" with the agency. At the request of organizations such as the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska Pork Producers Association, EPA decided to extend the participation deadline to July 1.
EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act and two other federal laws to enforce regulations on animal feeding operations. Over the next two years, EPA will study air emissions from various size livestock operations to set emission thresholds for operations. When the monitoring study is complete, the agency will begin enforcing regulations.
The pork, dairy and poultry industries reached an air quality compliance agreement with EPA, but the beef industry opted not to be part of the agreement. Beef producers contend air emission standards donâ€™t apply to open air feedlots.
"(Swine and poultry) producers need more time to learn about this and many may want to consult with legal counsel before making a decision on whether to participate in the voluntary program," says Keith Olsen, Nebraska Farm Bureau president.
Producers subject to the Clean Air Act will be required to obtain permits, while the other two federal laws are emission reporting programs wherein producers are not required to obtain permits, but rather report emissions, Craig Head, Nebraska Farm Bureau's environmental specialist, explains.
Livestock producers potentially have liability for illegal emissions during the past 20 years, Head says. Thatâ€™s why a second part of EPAâ€™s consent agreement with the three livestock industries requires participating producers to pay a fee, or penalty. The fee will be at least $200, but may likely be higher. Paying the "penalty" releases them from potential liability due to past air emission violations that may have occurred before the new air policies.
"The 'penalty fee' is not an admission of any wrongdoing or even that the producer is now subject to clean air laws," Head says.
"When you look at the Nebraska swine industry, for example, many producers have facilities not at one location but buildings at multiple locations. Because of the way 'farm' is defined in the agreement, a producer with multiple sites could pay considerably more than the $200," he says.
After the monitoring study data are analyzed, EPA will provide "look up charts" which producers can use to determine if they are required to comply with the air laws. If they are, they will have several months to come into compliance.
An individual operator with low emissions may only be required to file a pollutant release form while those with greater levels of emission may need to apply for an air permit and perhaps install controls on their farms.