Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: EPA’s Air Compliance Agreement Page: 2 of 18
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Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: EPA's Air Compliance Agreement
From an environmental quality standpoint, much of the interest in animal agriculture has focused
on impacts on water resources, because animal waste, if not properly managed, can harm water
quality through surface runoff, direct discharges, spills, and leaching into soil and groundwater. A
more recent issue is the contribution of emissions from animal feeding operations (AFO),
enterprises where animals are raised in confinement, to air pollution. AFOs can affect air quality
through emissions of gases such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile
organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and odor. These pollutants and compounds have a
number of environmental and human health effects.
Agricultural operations that emit large quantities of air pollutants may be subject to Clean Air Act
(CAA) regulation and permits. Further, some livestock operations also may be regulated under
the release reporting requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund, or CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Questions about the applicability of these laws to
livestock and poultry operations have been controversial and have drawn congressional attention.
Enforcement of these federal environmental laws requires accurate measurement of emissions to
determine whether regulated pollutants are emitted in quantities that exceed specified thresholds.
Yet experts believe that existing data provide a poor basis for regulating and managing air
emissions from AFOs. In an effort to collect scientifically credible data, in 2005 the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a plan that had been negotiated with
segments of the animal agriculture industry. Called the Air Compliance Agreement, it is intended
to produce air quality monitoring data on AFO emissions during a two-year study, while at the
same time protecting participants through a "safe harbor" from liability under certain provisions
of federal environmental laws. Many producer groups supported the agreement as essential to
gathering valid data that are needed for decision making. However, critics, including
environmentalists and state and local air quality officials, said that the agreement would grant all
participating producers a sweeping liability shield for violations of environmental laws, yet
because fewer than 30 farms would be monitored, it was too limited in scope to yield
scientifically credible estimates of AFO emissions. Some industry groups had their own questions
and reservations. In 2006, EPA approved agreements with 2,568 AFOs, representing nearly
14,000 farms. Monitoring of 25 farms in nine states occurred from mid-2007 to the end of 2009.
In 2011, EPA released the data from the individual monitored sites and began developing
improved emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) based on the data. Draft EEMs for some
animal sectors were released for review and public comment in 2012 and have been widely
critiqued, including by EPA's science advisers.
Separately, in 2008, EPA issued a rule to exempt animal waste emissions to the air from most
CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements. Legal challenges to the rule followed. In 2010, a
federal court approved the government's request to remand the rule to EPA for reconsideration
and possible modification. EPA has not yet proposed a new or revised rule.
This report reviews key issues associated with the Air Compliance Agreement. Background
information on air emissions from poultry and livestock operations, relevant federal
environmental laws and regulations, congressional interest, state activities, and research needs are
discussed in CRS Report RL32948, Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer, by
Congressional Research Service
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Copeland, Claudia. Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: EPA’s Air Compliance Agreement, report, August 18, 2014; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc814716/m1/2/: accessed July 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.