Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., gave testimony March 8 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight in support of the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act.
The FARM Act is sponsored by 34 senators, including Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. The legislation negates the need for a pending federal court requirement that farmers raising chickens, along with many other animal agriculture producers, must calculate and report to federal emergency response authorities the natural emission of ammonia from their farms. Chicken growers are concerned about how to measure the emissions, how to report them to the federal government, and the usefulness of the information that is to be reported.
The FARM Act restores the on-farm exemption for emissions from manure produced in animal agriculture. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) requires entities releasing certain substances to notify the federal government – specifically, the National Response Center (NRC), operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. When the law was enacted, the Environmental Protection Agency did not believe that the release of low levels of ammonia from animal agriculture was included in the intent of the law. However, a lawsuit was filed by several environmental groups saying animal agriculture should not be excluded, and in April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of that interpretation of Congress's legislative intent. The legislation now introduced makes it clear Congress intends to exempt animal agriculture from emissions reporting regulations that are more appropriate for factories and ships.
"In November of 2017, a handful of poultry producers from the Delmarva Peninsula and other parts of the country attempted to initiate the CERCLA reporting process before the court issued the reporting mandate because they were fearful of potential violations. One such producer is Sharon, who operates a poultry farm near Marydel, Maryland," Satterfield told the subcommittee. "Upon telephoning the NRC to provide an initial notification of a continuous release, she heard a recording informing her that the NRC would not be accepting telephone notifications. As feared, the NRC was not capable of handling the increased call volume prompted by the reporting requirement. The recording further directed her to submit the initial notification by email to the NRC. You need to understand that many of our farmers members do not have or use email regularly, so requiring an email notification is not practical and could result in farmers wishing to be compliant to be in violation of the CERCLA statute. Sharon is 73 years old and never has owned a computer or used email, so this was not an option for her. We received several telephone calls from our members that week with similar messages and concerns, including one that tried sending the email several times in one day, received an error message each time, and then was not able to reach anybody by telephone."
"The ammonia concentrations that occur on poultry and egg farms are at very low levels and they dissipate rapidly into the air," Satterfield continued. "CERCLA was never intended to force farmers and ranchers to report low-level emissions from normal, everyday agricultural operations. This bill will provide enormous regulatory relief to countless poultry and livestock farmers across America and give them more time to focus on their vocation - producing an economical, safe and wholesome supply of food for the United States and the world."
A South Dakota cattle rancher, Todd Mortenson, also testified before the subcommittee in support of the FARM Act. "Farmers and ranchers truly are America's first environmentalists," Mortenson testified. "While I support environmental best management practices, I cannot support needless requirements that burden the agricultural community while providing no benefits. Only Congress can ensure the agricultural community is protected from this reporting burden."