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OIG questions CAFO emissions deal industry struck with EPAOIG questions CAFO emissions deal industry struck with EPA

After 11 years, EPA has not developed reliable emission estimation methods to determine whether animal feeding operations comply with Clean Air Act.

Jacqui Fatka

September 21, 2017

3 Min Read
OIG questions CAFO emissions deal industry struck with EPA

In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency and the animal feeding operation (AFO) industry entered into a compliance agreement to develop reliable emission estimation methods as an attempt to determine scientifically whether AFOs comply with the Clean Air Act. Now, 11 years later EPA has nothing to show for it and EPA’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a new report, if no methods can be determined, EPA should end its agreement that has protected the industry from civil enforcement.

As part of this agreement more than a decade ago, the industry agreed to fund an air emissions monitoring study that EPA would use to develop improved emission estimating methodologies for the industry. The "National Air Emissions Monitoring Study" (NAEMS) monitoring was completed more than seven years ago at a cost of about $15 million, but EPA had not finalized any emission estimating methodologies for AFOs.

AFOs can have many and varied sources of air emissions, including barns, houses, feedlots, pits, lagoons, basins and manure spray fields. Each of these emission sources can emit a variety of air pollutants, and emission rates can fluctuate depending on climate and geographical conditions, among other factors. Further, characterizing AFO air emissions requires expertise in multiple scientific disciplines, including animal nutrition, AFO practices and atmospheric chemistry.

EPA entered into 2,568 separate agreements with AFO owners and operators, which covered about 13,900 AFOs in 42 states. According to EPA, these 13,900 operations comprise more than 90% of the largest AFOs in the U.S.

EPA had drafted methodologies for only about one-fourth of the emission source and pollutant combinations studied in NAEMS. EPA expected to develop and begin publishing emission estimating methodologies by 2009 so the methodologies could be used by EPA, state and local agencies and industry operators to determine the applicability of Clean Air Act and other statutory requirements.

OIG reported that delays in developing the emission estimating methodologies stemmed from limitations with NAEMS data, uncertainty about how to address significant feedback from EPA’s Science Advisory Board and a lack of EPA agricultural air expertise and committed resources.

EPA had not finalized its work plan or established time frames to finish the methodologies. As a result, the applicability of requirements to control emissions from individual AFOs remained undetermined, enforcement protections for consent agreement participants remained in effect longer than anticipated and a number of agency actions on AFO emissions remained on hold. Further, because EPA had not conducted systematic planning, the agency was at risk of developing emission estimating methodologies that could not be widely applied to AFOs.

OIG recommended that EPA conduct systematic planning for future development of emission estimating methodologies. Based on the results of this planning, OIG suggested that EPA should determine whether it can develop emission estimating methodologies of appropriate quality for each of the emission source and pollutant combinations studies.

“If the EPA determines that it cannot develop certain emission estimating methodologies, it should notify agreement participants and end civil enforcement protections,” the agency's investigating arm said.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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