Livestock producers and dairymen got some good news for a change last week from the Environmental Protection Agency when it denied a petition by environmental groups to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations like factories under the Clean Air Act.
CAFOs may one day be regulated as sources of air pollution, but that day won’t come anytime soon.
The EPA decision, posted in the Federal Register, answers a petition filed in 2009 by The Humane Society of the United States and other environmental groups.
The groups sought to bring concentrated animal feeding operations under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The section requires stationary sources of air pollution to adopt the “best system” for reducing emissions. The groups said farms with a large number of animals harm human health, poison the environment and cause climate change.
In a factory setting measuring emissions is a relatively straight forward matter. Manufacturing and processing takes place in enclosed spaces. Ambient particles inside can be measured, as can emissions from smoke stacks and other vents.
Manufacturing processes have been well studied and the resulting emissions are well understood.
CAFOs, however, are open-air operations. How do you measure the emissions of an individual Holstein? Is all manure created equal?
The petitioners first made their request in the early days of the Obama administration. But the agency put off making a decision throughout President Obama’s tenure. His administration wasn’t shy about imposing regulatory schemes if it could find even the thinnest excuse. If nothing else, that eight-year delay proves the considerable technical challenges involved.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in a letter to petitioners, 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 stated.
We would be surprised if these questions are settled anytime before 2020.