Noxious move

Our view: EPA rule exemption for livestock farmers favors industry and potential polluters

an agency study under way should offer more direction on problem of manure emissions

December 16, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency's end-of-year decision to exempt farmers from reporting the amount of ammonia emitted from animal waste doesn't pass the smell test. While this would benefit those in Maryland's poultry industry, which is based on the Eastern Shore and raised 295 million chickens last year, the ruling isn't welcome news for their neighbors, environmentalists and others citizens.

The EPA's rule change exempts animal farm operations from having to report ammonia and other emissions under "right to know" requirements of federal emergency response laws. EPA officials say resources are better spent on addressing real emergencies as opposed to routine emissions from a business operation. And they note that large farming operations would still have to report emissions to state and local authorities.

Ammonia is a byproduct of animal waste, and the Maryland Department of the Environment estimates yearly ammonia emissions from poultry farms and processing plants to be about 27 million pounds. Such emissions can harm asthma sufferers, cause irritations in other people and increase pollution in nearby waterways.

The National Chicken Council sought the exemption from the federal reporting rule because it says ammonia emissions from farms are low and the reporting requirement is onerous for most farmers. But environmentalists say that without reliable data, officials can't craft responsible policies to protect residents or the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient-rich pollutants that kill marine life.

The EPA is in the middle of a two-year national study of air pollution by animal feed operations, which is expected to conclude next year. That study should allow federal officials to assess the extent of ammonia pollution from farms and draft appropriate policy. If follow-up action is required, poultry companies - not small farmers - should bear the burden of containing such exposures.

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