Relief from CERCLA getting closer

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced draft legislation on March 13 to help protect farmers and ranchers from federal regulation.

Farmers and ranchers may be closer to avoiding regulations imposed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and other laws viewed as overly burdensome.

As previously covered in WLJ, CERCLA would require cattle and livestock producers to report emissions from livestock odors.

On March 14, Reps. Billy Long (R-MO) and Jim Costa (D-CA) introduced the Agricultural Certainty for Reporting Emissions Act to the House of Representatives with the support of 85 original cosponsors.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) welcomed the new legislation with President Kevin Kester saying, “There’s not a lot of bipartisan consensus in Washington, D.C., these days, but one thing that a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle can agree on is that the CERCLA law that regulates toxic Superfund sites shouldn’t apply to animal agricultural operations. CERCLA was never intended to regulate cow manure, and Congress should fix this situation as soon as possible.”

The measure is similar to legislation introduced in the Senate on Feb. 13 by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). Fischer’s Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act had initial support from 20 bipartisan senators. As of March 14, the bill had 37 cosponsors. The bill’s introductory paragraph says the bill will “Amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 to provide exemption from certain notice requirements and penalties for releases of hazardous substances from animal waste at farms.”

On March 8, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight, chaired by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), held a hearing on the FARM Act.

Todd Mortenson, a cattle rancher from South Dakota, testified on behalf of NCBA. He explained the challenges of complying with the CERCLA law due to limited research regarding measuring the emissions, time involved in reporting—a three-step process taking at minimum one year—and the expansiveness of his ranch.

Mortenson told the subcommittee members, “I manage 1,295 cattle on 19,000 acres of land. The concentration of emissions is extremely low because my cattle are spread over such a large area. However, CERCLA reporting requirements do not take concentration into account—only release. It makes no difference whether my cattle are spread over 10 acres or 10,000 acres. If my 1,295 cattle emit over 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide per day, I am required to report their emissions to the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency].”

After the hearing Rounds talked with NCBA for the organization’s weekly Beltway Beef Podcast, saying a lot of good information was shared. “Clearly the need to address the anticipated reinstatement of a requirement that manure releases be reported to the EPA and the Coast Guard is something that needs to be addressed.”

Noting that there is about a month before reporting would be required, Rounds said, “What we would like to do is to fix what’s been in effect all along and that is that farmers and ranchers shouldn’t have to go to the federal government and report releases of manure—that’s common sense.” Rounds added, “The challenge here is to get enough people on board to get it attached to a piece of legislation that could move forward in a fairly quick fashion.”

In response to CERCLA and other measures impacting farmers and ranchers Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, introduced draft legislation on March 13, called the Agriculture Creates Real Employment (ACRE) Act.

In announcing the legislation, Barrasso said, “Ranchers and farmers in Wyoming and across America are the first and best environmental stewards. The ACRE Act is a commonsense legislation to provide certainty for our farmers and ranchers.” He went on, “My bill would give them relief from burdensome and ineffective regulations. We need to make things simpler for the ranchers and farmers who feed and clothe the nation.”

The draft bill incorporates several pieces of bipartisan legislation that are within the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee’s jurisdiction, according to a press release from the committee. The release explains that the measure would “help defend agricultural industries from punishing rules and reporting requirements.” Additionally, the bill includes language supporting an efficient permitting process for predator control at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The ACRE Act would:

• Maintain the EPA’s 2008 exemption for certain farm conditions, including air emissions from animal waste, from reporting requirements within CERCLA;

• Protect personal producer information and identity privacy;

• End duplicative environmental permitting for pesticide application requirements;

• Prevent penalties to farmers who are conducting normal agricultural operations that could be considered “baiting” of migratory game birds; and

• Require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to process take and harassment permits in a timely manner, while maintaining compliance with other laws.

The individual bills included in the ACRE Act are:

• S. 2421—FARM Act;

• S. 1206—to ensure fair treatment in licensing requirements for the export of certain echinoderms (a variety of invertebrate marine animals);

• S. 478—the Hunter and Farmer Protection Act;

• S. 340—the Sensible Environmental Protection Act;

• S. 1343— the Farmer Identity Protection Act [113th Congress];

H.R. 5961—the Farmer’s Privacy Act [112th Congress];

S. 219—the Safeguard Aquaculture Farmers Act; and

S. 1207—the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act.

In response to Barasso’s proposal, Scott Yager, NCBA’s Chief Environmental Counsel, told WLJ, “We are glad to see Chairman Barrasso and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee taking regulatory reform for farmers and ranchers seriously. When Wyoming rancher Niels Hansen testified before the Committee last month, he explained how excessive federal regulations all too often hamper the ability of ranchers to care for natural resources.

 “The inclusion of legislative text in the ACRE Act that would fix the CERCLA issue provides another option for relieving livestock producers of burdensome and unnecessary reporting requirements. The standalone FARM Act will still move on a parallel track, and we expect a markup to take place next week [March 19]. We will continue to fight for passage of a CERCLA fix in the Senate while working to secure companion legislation in the House.”

Senators will be looking for other legislation where the ag-related bills could be attached and moved through the chamber; a possible option Rounds mentioned, prior to the draft bill offered by Barrasso, was the Omnibus spending bill. — Rae Price, WLJ editor

WLJ Editor

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