U.S. farmers will spend an estimated $14.9 million a year reporting to federal emergency managers that livestock are releasing gas, the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed Monday.
The EPA also projected that the mandate, set to take effect Jan. 22, will apply to approximately 44,900 farms, though producer groups say they’re still sorting out which operations will have to report.
“It’s going to be a challenge, to put it lightly,” said Jack Field, executive director of the Washington Cattle Feeders Association.
The EPA included the figures in a notice due to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register. The new rule comes after a decade-long battle between the EPA and environmental groups over the scope of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund law.
The law, passed in 1980, gives federal emergency managers authority to respond to releases of hazardous substances. The EPA exempted animal feeding operations, maintaining that it was unlikely anyone would ever stage an emergency response to decomposing manure.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this year overruled the EPA. The court sided with Waterkeeper Alliance and other environmental groups, which argued that manure was a hazard that emergency responders and the public should know about.
Still to be determined is whether the same farms will have to also register with local and state officials under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, a law passed in 1986 in response to the chemical leak in Bohpal, India, that killed thousands of people.
The EPA says the court’s decision on the Superfund law did not require farmers to report under the Right-To-Know Act. The suing environmental groups say it does. The court has yet to clarify its ruling.
The reporting threshold for both laws is the release of 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in a 24-hour period.
Field said he anticipates that every major feedlot in the state will have to register. Less certain, however, is the number of ranches that will have to report.
The EPA has released worksheets to help producers estimate emissions for cattle, pigs and poultry. But climate, enclosures and manure handling practices complicate the calculations.
Sarah Ryan, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said she has heard estimates that producers with as few as 200 head of cattle will have to report. Other estimates put the number at about 350 head of cattle, she said.
EPA recently advised ranchers that manure from cows grazing in pastures outside enclosed areas will count toward the reporting threshold.
“For cow-calf producers it’s a struggle to know what the threshold is,” Ryan said.
The EPA says it’s working on streamlined forms, but still estimates farms will spend 496,893 hours to report livestock emissions.
Factories must immediately report chemical leaks to the National Response Center, staffed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Farms will be able to register with the center annually as a continuous source of hazardous substances since livestock regularly vent.