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A federal court is expected to finalize an order Monday that will require untold thousands of farms to report that their animals are continuously releasing at least 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide per day, even though there is no generally accepted way to calculate emissions from decaying manure.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which argued against the mandate, has instructed producers to email the National Response Center, rather than deluge the Coast Guard-staffed center with phone calls. Within a month, producers will have to follow up and file a form with EPA regional offices.
“It’s not going to be fun for producers. It’s not complicated, but it’s different,” Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said. “You check the box and then do something more productive.”
The mandate stems from a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the EPA. The groups objected that the EPA exempted agriculture from the Superfund law, which requires factories and vessels to report chemical leaks and spills.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year rejected claims by the EPA that decomposing manure was unlikely to ever warrant an emergency response. The court delayed enforcing its order until at least Jan. 22 to give the EPA time to develop a reporting form tailored to farms.
The EPA has not yet finished the form, according to an agency spokesman. Nevertheless, the EPA anticipates the court will implement the order Monday.
EPA has detailed how to comply with the mandate on a website: epa.gov/animalwaste
EPA has taken steps to make reporting easier. Farms won’t have to report every day that their livestock emitted gas. Instead, producers will be able to register their animals as continuously releasing gas.
“The EPA is doing its darnedest to be helpful,” Gordon said.
It’s unclear how many producers meet the reporting threshold. The EPA estimates 44,900, but that number was derived eight years ago and has not been updated. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association calculated more than 68,000 beef producers will have to report. The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association estimates 141,000 poultry farms will need to report.
The EPA says there are too many geographic, climate and operational factors to estimate emissions by number of animals. Calculation sheets developed by different universities yield different estimates for similar operations.
The EPA says farmers won’t be expected to pinpoint emissions, just report a broad range. Farmers won’t be required to monitor or reduce emissions.
The U.S. Egg and Poultry Association has developed its own reporting form. The form includes a boilerplate estimate of emissions.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also plans to offer its members a streamlined reporting form when the court makes the mandate final, said Scott Yager, the association’s chief environmental counsel.
The association estimates cattle operations with as few as 200 head could meet the reporting threshold based on research conducted on grain-fed cattle in feedlots.
The reporting requirement also applies to cattle in grass pastures. There is no worksheet to calculate emissions from those type of operations, Yager said.
He advised all producers to look into whether they need to report.
“You should complete a worksheet and get it notarized and keep it in your file,” Yager said.
The cattlemen’s association hopes federal lawmakers will intervene and lift the mandate, either with legislation or by not allowing EPA to spend any money to enforce the rule, he said.
“It’s not something EPA can fix,” Yager said. “Congress needs to act.”