WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Tuesday that he signed a final rule implementing common-sense legislation introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer last spring, which ensures farmers and ranchers do not need to report animal waste emissions under a pair of laws that were originally meant for toxic waste sites caused by industrial and chemical pollution.
In December 2008, during the twilight hours of the George W. Bush administration, the EPA issued a final rule that exempted most beef and dairy operations from certain requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (also known as the “Superfund” law), and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). Specifically, the rule exempted farms releasing hazardous substances from animal waste to the air above threshold levels from reporting under CERCLA. For EPCRA reporting, the rule exempted reporting of such releases if the farm had fewer animals than a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
In short the small farms and cow-calf operations were spared from what most saw to be both a nonsensical mandate and a regulatory headache. While the Obama EPA took aggressive stances on a number of issues, the agency argued that the intent of CERCLA was not meant to be applied to animal agriculture. Clearly, the EPA had better things to do than send its employees out to measure the smell coming off of individual cow-pies in the pastures of Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming.
Yet, a number of citizen groups, namely the New York-based Water Keeper Alliance, challenged the validity of the final rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The groups argued that the EPA didn’t have a right to issue an exemption to CERCLA for agriculture, and on April 11, 2017, the Court struck down the final rule, eliminating the reporting exemptions for farms. The court issued a stay in January 2018.
A few weeks later, Fischer championed the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act, and received bipartisan support. President Trump Signed Fischer’s bill into law in March 2018.
“Due to unnecessary federal regulations, our ag producers in Nebraska were facing worry and frustration about calculating emissions from animal waste,” Fischer said in a statement Tuesday. “I was proud to lead the bipartisan legislation that delivered a permanent fix on this issue. Now that the EPA administrator has officially implemented this rule, farmers and ranchers will have more regulatory certainty.”
Had there been no action from Congress, livestock producers could have faced up to $54,000 a day in fines under CERCLA and EPCRA if they didn’t record and report to the government their livestock’s daily emissions.