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Courts endorse superfund cleanup for manure

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Story By: Ron Hays, Oklahoma Ag Radio Network

A generation ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved into the lives of many businesses by declaring “Superfund Sites.” The Agency enforced expensive cleanup and civil penalties that led to bankruptcy of manufacturing sites that had polluted their land and water.

Now, there is fear that the same regulatory reach, or overreach, could consider the discharge of livestock manure to be an enforceable offense and have devastating economic consequences.

According to Scott Yager, chief environmental counsel for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the US court systems have imposed a regulation on farms and ranches, bringing them under what is known as the Superfund, or CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) and EPCRA (Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act).

The statute, intended to increase transparency, now requires producers to report manure emissions. Yager says this action was pushed and encouraged by environmental activist groups, and now NCBA attempts to block this effort. He adds many government agencies are even backing NCBA’s argument.

“We’re now having agricultural producers face liability for having to report manure emissions under the statute,” Yager said. “The Coast Guard even came out in a public declaration and said having all these agricultural producers report to them is actually hurtful to their efforts to protect the public from actual emergencies – like an overturned tanker filled with chemicals or a plant explosion. That’s the stuff CERCLA is supposed to provide emergency response for, not farmers.”

Yager adds that even local emergency responders, police and firefighters have taken NCBA’s side. Now that the courts have made their decision, it is unlikely they will back up on it, although they have at least delayed implementation until later next year.

Originally, it was supposed to go into effect December 18, 2017. Yager says with this being the case it will likely take an act of Congress to reverse the decision. He says Congressman Billy Long (R-MO) has been a champion of this effort and has found a short-term solution, blocking this action through the appropriations process. But long-term, it will take more than that to keep the inevitable from happening.

“It goes back to who’s driving this thing,” Yager said. “It’s these environmental advocacy groups that litigated this. Those are the only guys that want this stuff and actually, it’s going to hurt our government’s ability to respond to true emergencies.”