Inspector General Scolds EPA for Failure to Track Farm Emissions

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By Teaganne Finn

The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to comply with a 2005 agreement to track air emissions of animal feeding operations, potentially putting some of them in violation of the Clean Air Act, an internal report said.

The report by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, released Sept. 19, found that the Air Compliance Agreement to produce air emissions data from animal feeding operations was never fulfilled by the feeding operation participants and the EPA.

The EPA and the Department of Agriculture in 2001 jointly asked the National Academy of Sciences for a feeding operation emissions analysis, but because data wasn’t readily available, the EPA and feeding operations entered into the Air Compliance Agreement to track emissions.

The agreement called for the EPA to come up with an emissions-estimating methodology. However, the EPA hasn’t completed one and, as a result, the emissions from feeding operations remain undetermined and a number of agency actions on feeding operation emissions continue to be on hold.

Feeding operations that emit air pollutants in sufficient quantities can trigger Clean Air Act permit requirements. However, "[a] lack of reliable methods for estimating these emissions prevented the EPA and state and local agencies from determining whether these operations are subject to statutory requirements,” the report said.

The inspector general’s office conducted its review from April 2016 through May 2017 by interviewing EPA staff in several agency offices pertaining to water and air quality. It also interviewed stakeholders to discuss the Air Compliance Agreement, as well as organizations that submitted petitions calling for EPA action.

The report concluded that the EPA’s ability to characterize and address feeding operation air emissions has remained “unchanged since its 2005 Agreement with the feeding operation industry intended to produce reliable emissions estimation methods.”

‘Significant’ Impact

One of the organizations that submitted a petition on the matter is Food & Water Watch. The group spoke to inspector general staff during the report process, Tarah Heinzen, staff attorney with the group, told Bloomberg BNA.

Emissions from feeding operations contain volatile organic compounds and can cause a number of health problems, Heinzen said.

“The scope of impact is significant,” she said. For the short term, Heinzen said she would like to see the EPA make a decision to finalize the emissions-estimating methodology.

Moving Ahead

The report offered several recommendations to the EPA, more specifically to the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation and the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Compliance and Assurance.

They include:

  •  Conducting comprehensive systematic planning for future emissions-estimating methodology development through either quality assurance project plans or pre-dissemination review processes.
  •  Determining and documenting the decision as to whether the EPA is able to develop scientifically and statistically sound emissions-estimating methodologies for each originally planned emission source and pollutant combination.
  •  Keeping the public informed of progress on developing emissions-estimating methodology.
  •  In any event where the Office of Air and Radiation determines it can’t develop emissions-estimating methodologies, notifying Air Compliance Agreement participants of this determination.

The EPA concurred with the report’s recommendations, according to a letter from the Office of Air and Radiation. The office anticipates completing most recommendations by the second quarter of fiscal 2018, the letter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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