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EPA lowballs manure rule’s reach, farm groups say

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Farm groups say the Environmental Protection Agency underestimates the number of farms that will have to report emissions from manure.

The Environmental Protection Agency has underestimated how many producers will have to report that their animals are releasing gas, according to farm groups.

The new reporting requirement, forced by an environmental lawsuit and expected to take effect Jan. 22, will apply to hundreds of thousands of farms, not the 44,900 projected by the EPA, the groups say.

“This number is woefully inadequate and vastly under-represents the universe of producers who will be impacted by these reporting requirements,” the American Farm Bureau Federation stated in comments to the EPA.

Farm groups submitted remarks this month as the EPA took comments on exactly what producers will have to report to comply with the Superfund act. The law requires that chemical leaks be reported to the National Response Center staffed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Farm groups are pushing for a one-page form that includes a disclaimer that pinpointing emissions is essentially guesswork. Environmental groups complain that the EPA’s tentative reporting standards aren’t tough enough.

The EPA estimates reporting will cost farms $14.9 million year. The EPA based its projection on the number of farms affected on a 2008 calculation, which has not been updated.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the rule could apply to 68,313 beef cattle operations alone.

The beef association based its estimate on research in Texas that suggests ranches with as few as 208 head of cattle will meet the threshold for reporting ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

“This number far exceeds EPA’s estimation, and cattle are just one of the species subject to his requirement,” according to the beef association.

The poultry industry estimates the rule could apply to about 141,000 poultry farms. Based on EPA cost estimates, calculating and reporting emissions could cost the poultry industry $47.2 million a year, according to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

The EPA sought to exempt agriculture from the Superfund law. After years of litigation, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that emergency responders should be alerted to decomposing manure.

The court gave the EPA until mid-January to develop a reporting form tailored to agriculture.

The court has yet to make a final ruling on whether farms also will have to register with state and local officials under a separate federal law.

The reporting requirement applies to operations that emit at least 100 pounds of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in a 24-hour period. Since emissions are affected by the weather, animal housing, manure handling and other factors, accurately estimating air emissions based on the number of animals is not possible, an EPA spokeswoman said in an email.

The EPA proposes to allow farmers to report once a year that their animals are continuously emitting gas. The Humane Society of the United States told the EPA that farmers should report fluctuations in emissions. The organization also accused the EPA of exaggerating the burden on producers.

Food & Water Watch, based in Washington, D.C., said EPA should drop its opposition to requiring farmers also report to local emergency responders. The emission estimates “shed light on whether air sheds are meeting all Clean Air Act standards” and could be grounds for regulating individual operations, according to the group.

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