The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill released Wednesday would exempt thousands of livestock and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from requirements that they report emissions from manure of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that exceed 100 pounds per day.
Congressional leaders agreed to include in the omnibus a bill called the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act, which is backed by 39 senators from both parties – 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Agriculture Committee. A bill with substantially the same language had been introduced in the House.
At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing last week, ranking minority member Tom Carper, said, “With the FARM Act, we are helping provide certainty to farmers by legislatively exempting all farms under CERCLA, as was done by EPA in its 2008 rule,” Carper said.
The 2,232 omnibus also includes a provision giving livestock haulers an exemption until at least Sept. 30 from having to install electronic logging devices.
Under a Transportation Department rule issued in 2015, truckers were required to have ELDs in their rigs by December - replacing paper logs of their trips. The ELDs are used to keep track of how long a trucker has been on the road, enhancing enforcement that requires 10 hours of rest for every 11 hours of driving.
The deadline had been extended by DOT to last Sunday and then was extended another 90 days. The bill bars the ELD requirement from being enforced through the rest of fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30.
The legislative fix to the emissions reporting requirements has long been a goal of groups including the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and United Egg and Poultry Producers.
A decision issued in April 2017 by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that EPA’s 2008 exemptions for animal operations from reporting under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and Comprehensive Environmental Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as the Superfund law) were illegal.
Since then, farm groups have been warning of dire consequences for up to 200,000 farms and ranches if the requirements went into effect, which they have not because the court has repeatedly delayed issuing its mandate, which it is now expected to do on May 1.
NPPC and United Egg have been supporting EPA’s requests for delays, which the agency said were necessary because it was still working on guidance for farmers, and that the Coast Guard’s National Response Center, which is supposed to field inquiries from farmers, was not equipped to handle thousands of phone calls.
“If the 2009 reporting trigger produced a situation that was ‘chaotic,’ the upcoming days immediately following issuance of the mandate are sure to be worse,” NPPC and United Egg predicted in a January filing with the court. “Now small and medium farms – defined by the number of the particular type of animal they produce – will be required to determine whether they must file CERCLA and EPCRA reports. They represent the majority of farms in the United States.”
The environmental groups that brought the suit, including Waterkeeper Alliance, The Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety, and Environmental Integrity Project, argued against recent delays. They also criticized EPA for essentially exempting animal operations from EPCRA, which requires reporting of hazardous emissions to state and local authorities.
EPA issued guidance in October interpreting EPCRA as excluding farms that use substances in “routine agricultural operations” from reporting under that law.
Missing from the omnibus is a new measure sought by pesticide manufacturers that would increase fees for pesticide registrations under the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act. The omnibus instead would allow EPA to continue assessing fees under the current version of PRIA.
The House passed the PRIA with a seven-year authorization. The Senate’s three-year version cleared the Agriculture Committee but has been stalled because of a hold by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
EPA recently laid out the impact of not passing what is known as PRIA 4 in a spreadsheet sent to Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., chief sponsor of the PRIA bill in the House.
Also left out of the omnibus was a rider that would have allowed the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to replace the Obama-era “waters of the U.S. rule" without following the time-consuming notice-and-comment requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.