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Legislation would exempt livestock producers from emissions reporting

Cattle linger in the background of a manure pile in Stutsman County, N.D., on Feb. 14, 2018. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 13, 2018, would exempt livestock producers from reporting releases of livestock emissions. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would permanently exclude livestock producers from having to report animal waste emissions.

Eight senators introduced the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act on Feb. 13 and additional co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle have signed on since the bill was written.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act requires facilities to report releases of hazardous substances that meet or exceed a reportable quantity within a 24-hour period.

One of the bill's original co-sponsors, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., explains the purpose of the act is to protect first responders and communities from things like dangerous industrial pollution, chemical plant explosions and the release of hazardous materials into the environment. Not, she says, from things that come out of livestock like the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in manure and urine.

Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Tom Carper, D-Del., are the other original co-sponsors of the FARM Act.

Though regulating livestock emissions may not have been the legislative intent of the act, and the Environmental Protection Agency at one time exempted most farms from reporting, courts have interpreted the acts as to require the owners of livestock to report levels above 100 pounds per day.

The D.C. Court of Appeals, in its April 2017 decision, originally set a Nov. 15, 2017, deadline for as many as 200,000 farms to report emissions, according to the National Pork Producers Council. The court has pushed back the deadline twice, recently moving it to May 1, 2018.

The NPPC says some producers tried filing emissions reports on the original deadline date of Nov. 15, but the Coast Guard's National Response Center was overwhelmed and unable to take all of the reports.

"The pork industry was prepared to comply with the reporting mandate," said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill., in a statement. "But EPA, the Coast Guard and state and local emergency response authorities said they didn't want or need the information, which could have interfered with their legitimate emergency functions."

Even with the new deadline, the logistics of how it would work, who would have to report and how to accurately estimate emissions continue to weigh on livestock groups and producers.

The legislation introduced on Feb. 13 would permanently exempt all livestock producers from reporting under the acts. Heitkamp calls it a "technical correction" to uphold the legislative intent of the laws.

The American Farm Bureau Federation cheered the legislation and urged quick passage.

"Congress enacted Superfund and emergency response laws to provide the tools needed to quickly respond to hazardous waste emergencies. Emissions from animals raised on farms and ranches were never intended to be swept into these reporting requirements," AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement. "We urge Congress to act swiftly to pass this legislation before the reporting requirement overwhelms our first responders and burdens farmers and ranchers with needless reporting obligations and the risk of activist lawsuits."

"Routine emissions from hog manure do not constitute a 'hazardous' emergency that requires the Coast Guard to activate a national cleanup response," Maschhoff said.

Heitkamp said the bill wouldn't exempt livestock producers from all regulation, just the emissions standards under the two acts, which she said add no value to communities and serve no purpose. The legislation would "fight irrational and unreasonable regulations," she said.

She doesn't anticipate a problem getting the bill passed.

"We're hopeful that we can get this across the finish line," she said. "This is the right thing to do to narrow the focus."

Heitkamp isn't the only North Dakota lawmaker working on the issue of livestock emissions reporting.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was one of the co-sponsors on the FARM Act, earlier in February wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asking that his agency help find a permanent solution to the problem by its regulatory process or by working with Congress on a legislative solution.

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