Sunday, December 14, 2008

EPA on Air Quality Reporting for Livestock Operations

It hasn't received a lot of press, but industrialized animal agriculture operations have been fighting for an exemption from the air quality emissions reporting requirements that other businesses must follow. And, the Bush Administration's EPA has supported them. Last week, there was a split decision of sorts.

As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Most Poultry Farms are Given a Break :
The Environmental Protection Agency backed away from the blanket exemption it had originally proposed, saying the largest livestock farms will still have to report releases of potentially harmful gases - but only to emergency response planners, not environmental regulators. The agency freed the majority of growers housing fewer than 125,000 chickens from any reporting.
Chickens are a big concern in Maryland, where the article reported that ". . . Maryland's multimillion-dollar poultry industry released more than 20 million pounds of ammonia into the air last year - 50 times the total released by the state's other industries."

Meanwhile, a South Dakota news site reports that South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune has filed a bill to exempt livestock from the Clean Air Act. Thune says the Clean Air Act was designed to target smokestacks in industrial states and not farm and ranch livestock.

Allow me to add in some commentary here -

There are many that support exemptions for small farming operations because they are, well among other things - small.

However, industrialized agriculture has been touted as the way of the future because of the economies of scale presented and the efficiency of modeling our farms after our factories - where one product is mass produced in a large quantity.

For a variety of reasons, I personally disagree with the assessment that "bigger is better," particularly when producing a living product. And there are convincing arguments that many of the alleged efficiencies do not reflect hidden costs to socieity, i.e., externalities. But putting these issues aside, it seems to me that agriculture cannot have it both ways.

Either you go for a small, low-impact operation that is exempted from many of the kinds of regulations that are imposed on "industry." Or, you go with an industrialized model that by definition is like a factory. So, the trade off should be that it will be regulated like a factory. The effort to act like an industrialized factory and yet be regulated like Grampa's farm just does not make a lot of sense. If this is a burden on the industry, that burden should be factored into the cost of production.


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