From: Chris Clayton, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
Published January 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Livestock Groups, EPA Agree on Air Monitoring

Jan. 25—Large livestock operations have finalized an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, agreeing to two years of air-quality monitoring in exchange for legal protections for past violations.

The EPA and livestock groups have been negotiating for two years. With the agreement, the EPA will monitor air quality around confinement animal feeding operations to create an emission standard for producers and then regulate excessive levels of pollution.

The agreement also caps fines at $100,000 for producers, based on the size and number of farms in their operation.

Livestock producers will contribute to a fund that will cover the costs of the study but essentially are exempt from liability for at least four years while the EPA crafts air standards for the industry.

The National Pork Producers Council heralded the agreement as a "landmark." The Sierra Club called it the "No CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) Left Behind" agreement.

Idaho hog farmer Dave Roper, who served on the National Pork Producer's environmental committee and the Agriculture Department's advisory committee for air emissions, said the agreement allowed farmers to help determine how the EPA would regulate them.

"Most people aren't real anxious to have the EPA come out to their farm and start monitoring everything," Roper said.

Signing up for the monitoring is voluntary. Groups such as the pork producers will hold meetings in the coming weeks. Roper said farmers can challenge the results of the study and measuring protocols.

Still, Roper said the EPA needed to establish a standard before trying to regulate the industry.

"Right now, it's like the EPA goes out with a speed gun without telling you what the speed limit is going to be," he said.

Environmentalists have argued that the EPA already has the authority to regulate livestock confinements under the Clean Air Act. Groups complain that the EPA has had a moratorium on enforcing regulations against livestock producers for the past four years and now can stretch that moratorium out much longer.

"These EPA rules amount to a wholesale relaxation of the Clean Air Act as it relates to factory farms, which are a major source of pollution in rural America," said Michele Merkel, senior counsel of the Environmental Integrity Project.

Laura Krebsbach, a Sierra Club farm activist in Nebraska, said the agreement symbolizes how the Bush administration will deal with environmental issues in the president's second term.

"This is the way they are going to ratchet up the attacks on environmental (regulations)," Krebsbach said.

Roper said he didn't know what determined the timing of the announcement, but the agreement with industry groups had been reached several months ago.

"They (the EPA) had it in the complete form for an awfully long time," he said.

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