Friday, September 22, 2017

EPA inspector general says agency has failed for 11 years to set standards on animal feeding operations

Photo of large cattle feedlot from
Arthur Elkins, the Environmental Protection Agency's auditor general, just released a report slamming the agency for not keeping tabs on emissions from large-scale animal feedlots, as it promised to do 11 years ago. EPA was supposed to publish reliable methods of estimating pollutants from feedlots, but didn't. Without that yardstick, feedlots can't provide meaningful data on their output of ammonia and other pollutants. And because the EPA doesn't have that data, it can't decide whether to put pollution controls in place or report the feedlots to emergency responders if the pollution is an immediate threat.

"Until EPA officials finish work on the estimating methods, they are refusing to act on citizen petitions to regulate emissions from animal feeding operations . . . on the grounds that the methods "are needed to inform the agency's decision-making," the report said," Sean Reilly reports for Environment & Energy News. Meanwhile, pollution has continued during the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and the acronym for animal feeding operations has evolved to "AFOs," dropping the "C" that stands for "confined" or "concentrated."

Large feedlots can generate air pollution from decaying manure and animal feed, but figuring out a straightforward way to measure that pollution can be tricky. EPA said in 2005 that it would use data from an industry-funded study to develop methods to estimate emissions. The agency was hoping to publish the methods in 2009, but the timetable was "wildly optimistic," Reilly writes. "The industry monitoring study took two years longer than originally expected; EPA had also not accounted for the time needed to get approval from an in-house board for agreements to protect individual producers from lawsuits or other enforcement actions for alleged violations until the new system was in place. Yet another hang-up emerged when EPA's Science Advisory Board, a body of independent experts, found in 2013 that a draft version of the estimating methods for some pollutants and sources wouldn't provide an accurate gauge of overall emissions. The board urged more work. Since then, the entire enterprise has essentially been dead in the water, the inspector general's report suggested."

Lack of inertia and the retirement of key members of the project means the effort has also suffered from lack of expertise in "agricultural emissions, air quality and statistical analysis," the report said. Acting EPA air chief Sarah Dunham said she agreed with the report and said the agency plans to announce in the spring a schedule for issuing the new estimating methods.

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