In recent years, CAFOs have come under fire from the EPA, resulting in the institution of requirements for wastewater and manure controls relative to water quality issues. It is reasonable to expect similar scrutiny exercised by the agency for air quality issues.
F&G: Has anyone challenged the EPA’s omission of the ag exemption language in the rule changes?
Triplett: The American Farm Bureau and other interested groups unsuccessfully challenged EPA’s decision on this point. With the legal challenge is over, it would take legislative action to exempt these sources.
From an operator’s standpoint — whether you are involved in a CAFO operation or other agricultural based facility (such as a grain handling, processing, feed manufacturing facility, etc.) — what is most troubling about the EPA’s action is their reversal of the proposed exemption without providing any conclusive evidence that coarse PM from agricultural operations poses a health risk. This creates the potential for coarse PM controls that may have no public health benefit.
F&G: Much of the discussion has centered on CAFOs, but as you mentioned earlier, other operations are at risk. How so?
Triplett: It is hard to say exactly which, if any, agricultural sources would be targeted for PM controls. Point sources, such as grain elevators and feed mills, are always potential targets as they are easier to inspect and control. Furthermore, we know that EPA is looking at air emissions from CAFOs since they are larger, concentrated facilities (as opposed to traditional farms). However, it is not uncommon for agencies to require smaller facilities in an industry sector to create control plans, as opposed to installing control equipment. For example, farm vehicles can kick up dust when they travel on dirt roads. Another example is feed storage and handling that has the potential to generate dust. To address these examples, an agency could theoretically require agricultural operations of a certain size to have a dust control plan that could include measures such as restricting speed limits and requiring the mixture of oil with feed to reduce dust. Since it is difficult to say whether the EPA or a state will require new controls or measures on agricultural sources to meet the coarse PM NAAQS, it is almost impossible to say which agricultural sources could be targeted.
F&G: Are there any other air quality issues at the EPA we should be aware of?
Triplett: As you know, greenhouse gas regulation is on the horizon. Congress required the EPA, through a general appropriations bill, to create a Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule last year. After missing its initial deadline, the EPA got around to submitting a proposed rule in April. The proposed rule would require suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of greenhouse gas emissions to submit annual reports to the EPA. The gases covered by the proposed rule are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and other fluorinated gases including nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and hydrofluorinated ethers (HFE).
The rule affects animal feeding operations that have a “manure management system” that releases more than 25 metric tons of CO2 equivalents annually. These sources would be required to report under the rule. This rule, as proposed, would mostly affect large operations using anaerobic lagoons. Large-scale hog operations, large-scale feedlots and dairy operations could be affected. The proposed rules did not include requirements for reporting “methane from ruminant animals via enteric fermentation.” This means the “cow tax” did not make it into the proposed rules and likely will not be adopted.
The rule information sheets state that other sources of agricultural greenhouse gas release are not to be regulated under this reporting rule. Examples of activities not affected by reporting requirements include in-field burning of agricultural residues, composting (not manure), and cultivation of crops.
At this point, EPA is working on developing the final rule and responding to comments. That process can take months to over a year.