What Do You Need to Know About the Air Emissions Consent Agreement?
Posted: July 7, 2004
Pennsylvania dairy producers with greater than 200 dairy cows should be familiar with the Air Emissions Consent Agreement (Safe Harbor Agreement) and determine if participation is appropriate for their operation. Air emissions are not about odor. It involves the amount of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and particulate matter emitted from livestock operations. Listed below are some frequently asked questions. Answers are based on what is currently known.
Q. What is the Consent Agreement?
A. The consent agreement outlines expectations, establishes the legal protections for past emissions and identifies producer responsibilities to comply with future air quality regulations. There are two main components to the agreement: 1) as a dairy producer you agree to participate in and help fund a two year national air monitoring study to establish regulatory thresholds for air emissions. 2) by signing the agreement, EPA has agreed to provide certain legal safeguards for past and current emissions.
Q. Can any dairy sign up for the Consent Agreement?
A. Basically, yes. It is voluntary. There may be circumstances when EPA may exclude a dairy, i.e. currently involved in an EPA regulatory action.
Q. Are there any fees associated with signing the Consent Agreement?
A. Dairy producers will be assessed a nominal penalty depending on the number of animals on-farm. For example: the penalty for AFOs with less than 700 mature milking cows is $200; more than 700 mature milking cows is $500; operations with more than 7,000 cows is $1,000. These penalty monies will be handled as any other EPA fine and will not be used to fund the necessary research. Producers can also be assessed a charge of up to $2500 for each source covered by the agreement to help fund the research study. There would be no assessment if a producer group or other non-governmental entity provided the financing necessary for the dairy study.
Q. How much money is involved to conduct the research?
A. Several figures have been discussed, ranging from $1.3 to $2 million. The swine and layer industries have used their check-off funds to support the research needed, $7 million and $2.8 million respectively. Dairy is at a disadvantage because of its lack of unity. Companies or organizations would need to come together to supply the monies necessary to conduct the research. If the research exceeds the allotted amount, then individual dairies can be charged a fee for the additional costs, which at present time would not exceed $2500. If no industry wide monies are raised, the program could still proceed if enough producers signed up for the consent agreement so that the $2500 payment from each participant covered the total cost. Monies raised for one species cannot be used to cover costs for another species. Money and day-today management of the research projects will be by entities separate from EPA as defined in the agreement.
Q. Are any dairy organizations working to coordinate funding for the research?
A. At this time there is no identifying organization representing dairy. The National Milk Producers Federation, a national organization of dairy cooperatives, had been involved in developing the consent agreement but had no funds to commit to the monitoring program.
Q. What are the advantages or disadvantages?
A. By signing the agreement, EPA is agreeing not to take action for past or present conditions. In addition to paying the penalty and contributing towards the research, the farmer is agreeing to permit on-farm monitoring, if selected, and also abide by any final regulations in a timely fashion. However, it does not make the producer immune from nuisance lawsuits, i.e. odor related or to citizen lawsuits if they feel a farm is emitting hazardous levels of ammonia, particulates etc. Each producer will have to determine if the protection afforded by the agreement is worth the cost and legal commitments of participation.
Q. When do producers sign-up for the Consent Agreement?
A. The time frame is now! Present information indicates that the sign-up period could start as early as July. The time allowed for response will be very short, 60 to 90 days. It will be important for dairy producers to keep up to date with the Consent Agreement by working with your local extension service and dairy organizations (cooperatives), reading popular press articles, or accessing Penn State’s Nutrient Management web page for up-to-date material. Dairy needs to get on track quickly and determine if group action is appropriate or if each farm will work independently.
If you are concerned about this issue, discuss this with your local and state producer organizations, cooperative representatives, contact EPA or your federal representative.
This agreement has been a long time in the making and has also attracted considerable political attention from both industry and environmental related groups. The eventual timeline, exact wording and details have not been published. It appears to have serious legal, monetary and long-term implications for affected AFOs. It is essential that each farm study the agreement, seek appropriate professional counsel and determine the impacts for their operation. It is not clear what the bottom line cut-off as to herd size may be.
Virginia Ishler, Dairy Alliance and Robert E. Graves, Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department