HSUS is not the first group to go after hog operations for ammonia emissions. The blueprint for HSUS’ flank attack was established by earlier lawsuits against hog and poultry operations for violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA aka the Superfund law) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). CERCLA and EPCRA do not limit pollutants but require reporting when specific quantities of specific substances are released into the environment. CERCLA and EPCRA also allow citizens to sue for violations of these laws and environmental groups have successfully used these “citizen suits” to sue poultry and swine operations for failure to report ammonia emissions. (ex. Sierra Club v. Tyson Foods, Inc. (2003) and Sierra Club v. Seaboard Farms (2004)) Sound familiar?
In December 2008, the EPA ruled animal waste emissions to the air were exempt from all CERCLA reporting requirements but only partially exempt from the EPCRA reporting requirements. Larger operations subject to the permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act were still subject to the EPCRA while smaller operations were exempt. Of course, neither side was happy with the compromised rule and another lawsuit was filed; the infamous Waterkeeper v. EPA case. Prior to a final ruling, the court approved the government’s request to re-evaluate and possibly modify the emission reporting requirements. The EPA anticipated proposing its revisions by 2012 but nothing has yet been submitted.
Understandably, EPA’s delay in submitting a new or revised rule has created confusion among producers and the state agencies enforcing the reporting requirements. Despite the confusion, livestock and poultry operations like those targeted by HSUS are currently governed by the reporting requirements of the EPCRA.
If you have any questions whether your operation is required to report under the EPCRA please check out the University of Nebraska’s Livestock and Manure Management web page: New Air Emissions EPCRA Rule for Livestock and Poultry. The page provides links to FAQ about the rule; determining your emissions; and submitting an EPCRA report; among other important links on this topic.