If you're a pork producer, you likely know about the Air Emissions Consent Agreement offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. To learn the history behind it, visit the National Pork Producers Council Web site.
Indiana Pork Producers officials say the three most important facts about the agreement are: (1) Sign-up is voluntary, (2) deadline is July 1, and (3) it won't be offered again.
Here are key "nuts and bolts" questions about the program. National Pork Producers Council provided answers.
Are farms vulnerable to legal action because of air laws?
ANSWER: Most producers aren't even aware of their vulnerability. Citizen, state and EPA lawsuits have resulted in consent agreements and court decisions that involve multimillion-dollar penalties and corrective action. Air laws allow groups to sue for past air emissions violations. Attorney and consultant fees, disruption of normal business, and possible fines make the risk of past and current emissions violations a threat to doing business.
What is required to participate and obtain legal protections?
ANSWER: Producers sign a consent agreement and pay a nominal penalty (as little as $200 per farm). The pork producer is not admitting guilt for past violations, but is agreeing to later come into compliance with the law should the National Monitoring Study indicate the farm is above legal thresholds of air emissions.
What legal protections are you talking about?
ANSWER: Signing the consent agreement gains legal protection from about 2007 backwards. EPA will release from liability and not sue any participant who signs and pays a nominal penalty. The format of the consent agreement also creates legal protections for defending state and citizens' lawsuits for alleged emissions violations covered by the agreement.
Do these air laws only apply to large farms?
ANSWER: University research in Indiana, Missouri and Illinois indicates that any hog producer with two deep-pit finishing barns (1,000 pigs each) should consider signing up. Even a farm with only 1,000 hogs should seriously consider it.
What if I don't participate?
ANSWER: Pork producers with emissions above the final regulatory standard (to be set after study is completed) who do not gain protections of the consent agreement will be vulnerable to citizen, state and federal lawsuits for past and current emissions. Note that the consent agreement does not release a producer from criminal liability, nor prevent EPA from acting in situations of imminent danger.