This week the Environmental Protection Agency is reluctantly requiring livestock and dairy farmers to comply with a rule designed to alert local communities of businesses that emit dangerous chemicals.
Under the Superfund law, operations that emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in a 24-hour period must report to federal authorities and to local officials under the Community-Right-to-Know Act.
That’s not nearly as straightforward as it seems. There is no generally accepted way to determine the amount of gas emitted by livestock operations.
To demonstrate how flimsy the science is, even the Obama administration had sought to exempt agriculture from the law’s reporting requirement. The EPA argued that it was unlikely the gases given off by livestock and decaying manure would ever require a local emergency response.
But as is often the case, a lawsuit filed by environmental groups has resulted in farmers being caught in this regulatory net.
The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in April that qualifying operations had to begin reporting as of Jan. 22.
The EPA had estimated only 44,900 farm operations would be impacted, at a cost of $14.9 million a year. The EPA based its projection on a 2008 calculation, which has not been updated.
Farm organizations say EPA has woefully underestimated the impact. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the rule could apply to 68,313 beef cattle operations alone. The poultry industry estimates the rule could apply to about 141,000 poultry farms.
There is no way for producers to determine on which side of the standard their operation falls. There’s not much the EPA can do to give them an objective way to measure emissions.
But farmers can ill-afford not to err on the side of caution and make their report.
The court’s ruling is folly. To quote Mr. Dickens, the law is an ass.