During a recent conversation, the subject of obscure and irrational laws came up. You know, those crazy laws we read about on e-mails that are forwarded hundreds of times. I decided to do some quick research to check on the law that was the topic of our pointless discussion, a law making it illegal to tie your giraffe to a lamppost in a particular Georgia town. Although I did not locate information on that item, Google provided a directory of Web sites listing countless bizarre laws. For instance, it is illegal to eat fried chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Ga. I did not verify any of the seemingly ridiculous laws, but given the inefficiency frequently demonstrated by our government, it would not surprise me if some exist.
That being said, I do feel our government is the best in the world, and although impractical issues are cast about on a seemingly frequent basis, sometimes our government officials do get it right. An example of getting it right is the proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide an administrative reporting exemption to farms that release ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from animal waste into the air as a consequence of raising livestock.
Authority not affected
The exemption does not apply to any other substance, nor does it provide the means to emit or release these substances to the soil, ground water or surface water. It in no way affects the EPA's authority to regulate these farms under the Federal Clean Air Act and the Federal Clean Water Act.
Environmental groups are up in arms, attempting to draw a parallel between these emissions and emissions from industrial facilities. There simply is no parallel.
While family farms can produce these emissions, the best available scientific information indicates that they occur at low concentrations, at levels below the reporting requirement of 100 pounds per day. And while some groups would like the public to believe there is a risk, there is no evidence that the emissions become concentrated enough to exceed public health standards or pose a health risk.
A current study initiated by the EPA and supported by poultry producers should help define the need for a new set of Clean Air Act regulatory requirements for farms. Until that study is complete, the poultry industry is responding to current regulations with the best available scientific data.
The requirement to report emissions from these sources would place a substantial burden on the shoulders of the roughly 40,000 family poultry farmers across the USA. But the effect this requirement would have on emergency response personnel was the main catalyst influencing the EPA exemption. In response to this issue, a number of Local Emergency Planning Commissions supported the proposed exemption in letters to the EPA. In 2005, during the petition process, the State Emergency Response Commissioners from eight of the major poultry states wrote the EPA to voice their full support. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality went on record saying, "A significant number of daily notifications as required per CERCLA and EPCRA would strain our resources and unnecessarily divert our attention from potentially serious emergencies to which we must respond."
The reasoning behind this proposed ruling is justified by current scientific facts and practical common sense, two principles that are sometimes overlooked when developing governmental regulations. Unfortunately, both of these standards can easily be clouded by contorting the facts and ignoring common sense. That being said and all joking aside, it's refreshing to see that government can still get it right.