The Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and a Watchful Eye

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released documents and is requesting comments on the draft air emissions estimating methodologies developed as part of the January 2005, “voluntary” Air Compliance Agreement with the animal feeding operations industry. This agreement resulted in the two year National Air Emissions Monitoring Study (NAEMS).

As focus is on the June 11, 2012 deadline for submitting comments to the EPA and how the emission factors from this study will impact agriculture, don’t take your eye off the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions issue.  Let me explain why.

Last month we mentioned an article published in “Counterpunch.”   This article states that “factory farming” is the major source of Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) emission.  Setting aside Counterpunch’s admittedly less than mainstream views, we also mentioned a recent study by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  In this research, NASA presented the results of their study on GHGs and suggested that “Control of methane emissions from livestock, mainly through farm-scale anaerobic digestion of manure from cattle and pigs,” is one key method to slow the pace of global warming.

Also, recall also that in our February 2011 issue we mentioned a Federal Register Notice regarding the USDA’s intent to find methods that will help farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners to assess their greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint.  And don’t forget the lengthy internationally funded study “Livestock’s Long Shadow” sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006). This 300-page report said among other things that the world’s livestock sector has a significant impact on the environment leading to climate change, air pollution, land, soil and water degradation, and reduction in biodiversity.

Make no mistake, there are several organizations that are interested in quantifying GHGs from farms, and others that are interested in reducing GHGs from farms.

Most regulations, and particularly, environmental regulations, have a significant political component to them. The very fact that GHGs are being regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) is politically and emotionally charged. One of the reasons this is controversial is the very nature of the CAA permitting process, which can be a regulatory monstrosity. 

The regulatory burden under the CAA grew significantly when the 1990 CAA Amendments (CAAA) were passed.  This is when Title V of the CAAA was introduced.  For “Major Sources” of emissions, Title V was (and is) a headache.  Obtaining and maintaining a Title V permit is no small undertaking, and the record keeping requirements are significant.

But Title V only applies to Major Sources of air pollution – so most companies were spared from this.

But now you can be a Major Source, not because you have hazardous air pollutants, but based on your GHG emissions alone. While the threshold is still fairly high (100,000 tons per year (tpy) Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e)), there is no guarantee that number will remain at 100,000 tpy.

So what are the GHG emissions from agriculture (GHG emissions were not part of the NAEMS)?  As stated previously, it is the focus of several studies. According to the EPA’s 2012 Draft U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, nation-wide aggregate emission of the two major GHGs from agriculture (methane and nitrous oxide) are estimated at 444,000,000 metric tpy of CO2e.

Does all this suggest that agriculture can expect future GHG regulation?  At a minimum it’s worth keeping one eye on the emission standards being developed from completion of the NAEMS and another eye on the GHG issue.

NOTE: We want to again point out that as it relates to regulating GHGs from livestock agriculture, Part 98, Subpart JJ addresses Manure Management. The EPA is not currently implementing Subpart JJ due to a Congressional restriction.

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