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Friday, July 27, 2012

Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: EPA’s Air Compliance Agreement

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

From an environmental quality standpoint, much of the interest in animal agriculture has focused on impacts on water resources, because animal waste, if not properly managed, can harm water quality through surface runoff, direct discharges, spills, and leaching into soil and groundwater. A more recent issue is the contribution of emissions from animal feeding operations (AFO), enterprises where animals are raised in confinement, to air pollution. AFOs can affect air quality through emissions of gases such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and odor. These pollutants and compounds have a number of environmental and human health effects.

Agricultural operations that emit large quantities of air pollutants may be subject to Clean Air Act (CAA) regulation and permits. Further, some livestock operations also may be regulated under the release reporting requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund, or CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Questions about the applicability of these laws to livestock and poultry operations have been controversial and have drawn congressional attention.

Enforcement of these federal environmental laws requires accurate measurement of emissions to determine whether regulated pollutants are emitted in quantities that exceed specified thresholds. Yet experts believe that existing data provide a poor basis for regulating and managing air emissions from AFOs. In an effort to collect scientifically credible data, in 2005 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a plan that had been negotiated with segments of the animal agriculture industry. Called the Air Compliance Agreement, it is intended to produce air quality monitoring data on AFO emissions during a two-year study, while at the same time protecting participants through a “safe harbor” from liability under certain provisions of federal environmental laws. Many producer groups supported the agreement as essential to gathering valid data that are needed for decision making. However, critics, including environmentalists and state and local air quality officials, said that the agreement would grant all participating producers a sweeping liability shield for violations of environmental laws, yet because fewer than 30 farms would be monitored, it was too limited in scope to yield scientifically credible estimates of AFO emissions. Some industry groups had their own questions and reservations. In August 2006, EPA approved agreements with 2,568 AFOs, representing nearly 14,000 farms. Monitoring of 25 farms in nine states occurred from mid-2007 to the end of 2009. In January 2011, EPA released the data from the individual monitored sites and began developing improved emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) based on the data. Draft EEMs for some animal sectors were released for review and public comment in February 2012 and have been widely critiqued, including by EPA’s science advisers.

Separately from the monitoring study, in December 2008, EPA issued a rule to exempt animal waste emissions to the air from most CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements. Legal challenges to the rule followed. In October 2010, a federal court approved the government’s request to remand the rule to EPA for reconsideration and possible modification.

This report reviews key issues associated with the Air Compliance Agreement. Background information on air emissions from poultry and livestock operations, relevant federal environmental laws and regulations, congressional interest, state activities, and research needs are discussed in CRS Report RL32948, Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer, by Claudia Copeland.

Date of Report: July 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL32947
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.

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