In recent years, we have been conditioned to expect little legislation to pass quickly, at least in the Senate. This past year everyone in animal agriculture has been put on the hot seat to comply with new, cumbersome regulations.
However, we are very close to dodging a regulatory bullet now that there has been some serious legislation agreed on to circumvent the reporting requirements for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Starting May 1 all livestock operations were to be required to start reporting their toxic emissions to the U.S. Coast Guard in order to comply with the law. Anything over 100 lbs. of various toxic gases in livestock feces were to be reported.
Just two weeks ago in Phoenix at the Cattle Industry Convention, the NCBA policy staff gave us a rundown on the policy issues they are working on in Washington, D.C. When it came to CERCLA, they said that they have been trying to buy time and delay it. They even tried to get language in the omnibus spending bill that would prohibit any expenditures for carrying out the law. It was clear that the only real way to deal with CERCLA was a legislative fix. They really didn’t tell us exactly where they were at in that process.
However, they have been at it ever since the D.C. Court of Appeals made their decision to make EPA enforce the law last April. NCBA, along with others, had crafted proposed legislation by December to clearly exempt ag from the law. The bill, SB 2421—the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act—would clarify that routine emissions from farm animals and their manure are not reportable under CERCLA.
Now they needed cosponsors and a bill to attach it to. The coalition started their lobbying efforts, led by NCBA’s Scott Yeager, with the Senate because they would be the most difficult to get on board. Sen. Deb Fisher (R-NE) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) got the ball rolling. They had a balanced split between farm state Democrats and Republicans, but still didn’t have the man they needed—Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. They received his support Feb. 12, last Monday night. This gave the coalition the fuel to take the bill through on a bipartisan stand-alone basis.
CERCLA was never intended to affect animal agriculture because EPA planned it that way. But some of our overzealous environmental groups saw a way to take another swipe at animal agriculture. Waterkeeper Alliance and other groups felt that every industry that emits toxic gases into the air should have to comply with the law and they challenged the ag exemption in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on the basis that, if select groups must comply and report, then all should report.
The problem has always been: How do you measure the volume of emissions of greenhouse gases on a range cow operation that is spread out over 20 sections of real estate? Several universities put together estimator models to get some idea of emissions, but they only applied to confined animal feeding operations, CAFOs.
The bill isn’t through the gauntlet yet, but the odds look good that it will go through the House without a hitch and the president will sign it. This will be some of the first legislation to go through the process on its own merit in quite some time. And from my idealistic point of view, it’s the way all legislation should work. This would be a great step for our country and this Congress if they can take baby steps with legislation and serve the people.
They can work together in a bipartisan way to accomplish simple common-sense laws. The ideological extremes are where these folks get in trouble.
I find it fascinating that two weeks ago we were just talking about legislative reform of CERCLA and today it looks like it’s very close to becoming law accomplished. I spoke with Colin Woodall, vice president of policy at NCBA, about the certainty that this law would pass. He replied that he has been in Washington long enough not to count it as a win until it’s done. There are too many distractions and it just takes one senator to run it off the rails as we have recently experienced.
NCBA and the other animal agriculture groups who make up the “Barn Yard Coalition” deserve a pat on the back. Regardless of what you think of these groups everyone in animal ag won and dodged a bullet over this feces fiasco. — PETE CROW