Tuesday 11 December 2018

EPA Guidance Falls Short of Protecting Communities

Air Releases of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste Will Continue

Sometimes our job as Waterkeepers can get very wonky. And this is one of those times. Not only do we comment on and challenge flawed regulations, we also slog through the guidance documents that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafts about how these regulations should be interpreted and applied. Last month, the EPA released a Guidance regarding a new requirement that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) – known as factory farms -- report the release of hazardous substances from their facilities.

This Guidance came a few months after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that CAFOs are not exempt from the reporting requirements under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). The decision was meant to close a EPA loophole that has long exempted CAFOs from reporting the same hazardous substances – like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide – as other industries.

The Court reasoned that public health professionals and emergency responders would need this information to adequately respond to emergencies and community threats. Under the ruling, a CAFO owner or operator must notify federal authorities under CERCLA and state and local authorities under EPCRA after it releases a large amount of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide.

The EPA estimates that nearly three-quarters of the country’s ammonia emissions come from CAFOs. According to the Government Accountability Office, the amount of manure from CAFOs ranges from 2,800 tons to 1.6 million tons a year. The manure ends up emitting high quantities of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile methane and particulate matter after it’s stored or applied to cropland, where it either decomposes or undergoes nitrification and de-nitrification. The ventilation systems in CAFOs also release harmful levels of ammonia emissions. For instance, a study conducted by Iowa State University found that two chicken houses in Kentucky emitted over 10 tons of ammonia in one year.

Ammonia air pollution is associated with some serious health effects, including throat irritation; chemical burns to the respiratory tract, skin and eyes; chronic lung disease; and increased mortality rates.

Despite this, EPA’s Guidance exempts more than ninety percent of the largest CAFOs across the United States from reporting. The EPA justified exempting these CAFOs because they are under a 2005 Animal Feeding Operation Air Compliance Agreement. These compliance agreements were set up so the EPA could develop a reliable way to estimate emissions from CAFOs and determine whether they comply with Clean Air Act standards, but a recent report from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector found that the agency has not been able to make much progress – even after 11 years.

Another glaring issue with EPA’s Guidance is that all farms are virtually excluded from reporting hazardous emissions to state and local authorities. Under the Guidance, any farm that uses manure as part of its “routine agricultural operations” is exempted from the reporting requirements under EPCRA §304. EPA stated that it “believes Congress did not intend to impose EPCRA reporting requirements on farms engaged in routine agricultural operations.”

The “continuous release” reporting required under CERCLA §103 allows for too much uncertainty as it allows for CAFOs to report in “broad ranges” to federal authorities and only requires CAFOs to review their emissions annually.

EPA’s Guidance also falls short of informing CAFO operators and owners on how they should estimate the amount of hazardous substances emitted by their facilities. Despite acknowledging the difficulty in measuring these emissions, EPA does not require any monitoring and allows operators and owners to use their “best professional judgment.”

While this Guidance was meant to educate CAFO owners and operators on how to comply with the recent decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, it largely circumvents the Court’s impetus for requiring CAFOs to report hazardous emissions in the first place – to protect communities and provide much needed information for local authorities and emergency responders.

The Guidance and reporting requirements will go into effect on November 15th, but the EPA has requested a stay until January 17th, which the Court has yet to rule on.

Read our detailed comments on the Guidance.

[Aerial photos of chicken CAFOs by Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips.]

Dec. 4th Public Meeting & Rally on Coal Ash Disposal in Virginia

Back in April, Governor McAuliffe put the brakes on issuing coal ash solid waste permits to Dominion for at least a year so the toxic coal ash threats posed at their facilities can be assessed and the full range of disposal solutions explored, including recycling. This assessment will be presented to the State Water Commission on December 4th.

Please join us Dec. 4th from 10:00 – noon to hear the results of this finding. The meeting will be located in Virginia State Capitol, House Room 1, 1000 Bank Street, Richmond, Virginia. Remember to bring a state issued ID to gain entry into the Virginia State Capitol.

Immediately following the meeting there will be a press event and a Dominion: Move Your Ash rally. RSVP today to receive updates. We need to tell Dominion and Virginia loud and clear that they can’t bury toxic coal ash in leaky ponds at their power plants!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1310974965680909/


Water is Life Rally & Concert to Stop Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Dec. 2nd

This rally and concert will focus attention on the Virginia Water Control Board hearings coming up in Richmond on December 6, 7, 11 & 12 to decide whether or not to grant water quality certifications for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. The Rally & Concert on Dec. 2nd and the public hearings represent the last political chance in Virginia to stop these fracked gas pipelines. Help surround Capitol Grounds from 1-2pm to send a strong message to our public officials. Then join for food, fun, and music at The National.

WHEN: Saturday, 12/2 from 1-4:30pm

WHERE: 1:00 pm at Capitol Grounds in Richmond and 2:00 pm at The National.

https://www.facebook.com/events/127828584582997/


Public Hearing on Water Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Dec. 11 - 12

The Virginia State Water Control Board will hold hearings to consider the application for water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The consideration is part of the process required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.

The meetings are scheduled for: 9:30am, Monday, Dec. 11 and Tuesday, Dec. 12 at Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road, Richmond, VA.

The Water Control Board is the last hurdle Dominion faces in Virginia, and our last hope to block it before heading to federal court.

Help us send a message to the Board and Governor McAuliffe – come out to the hearings on December 11 & 12 and demand they put Virginians and our environment ahead of national politics and Dominion influence-peddling. Check our Facebook page for updates.


Public Meeting on Water Permit for Potomac Pipeline Dec. 19th

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is holding a public meeting on TransCanada’s proposed fracked gas pipeline that would tunnel under the Potomac River.

The hearing is Tuesday, Dec. 19th, 6:00 – 9:30 pm at Hancock Middle/High School, 289 West Main Street, Hancock MD 21750.

At this meeting, MDE will hear from Marylanders to inform their decision about whether to approve or deny the 401 Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act. Denying the 401 permit would stop the construction of this pipeline in its tracks, and is the best way for Governor Hogan and MDE to protect our drinking water!

Join us on Dec. 19th to stand united in saying NO to the Potomac Pipeline. This is a critical moment to stop the Potomac Pipeline, show up and speak up!

Details about how to prepare your testimony to come. If you can’t join us on December 19th, stay tuned for instructions to submit written testimony through January 16th.

https://www.facebook.com/events/498027433917323/

 

Please support our work to defend and protect your clean water!

Join your Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, along with neighbors and the brave defenders of the Potomac watershed on November 5th in Chevy Chase, Maryland from 7-10pm at the Meadowbrook Park Activity Building. We will celebrate and learn about our unique watershed and a small community's fight against a large hog Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Fulton County, PA. 

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This factory-like facility would be the largest in the county and would house close to 9,000 hogs, while confining sows to production of 9,600 piglets each month – or 115,200 piglets annually. With this many pigs comes even more manure. The CAFO would apply over 11.4 million gallons of manure to land in our watershed and use an estimated 14 million gallons of water each year.

Our upstream neighbors and community members, led by homeowner Marjorie Hudson (pictured below) - who lives across from the proposed hog CAFO - have opposed the project since it was proposed in 2014. Thanks to their efforts, they have been able to stop the CAFO from polluting nearby air, land and waterways.

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The location of the proposed CAFO is on a hill that drains into tributaries of Big Cove Creek, a popular fishing location. The waters of Big Cove Creek flow into Licking Bend Creek, which is a tributary of the Potomac River. The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay and provides drinking water for approximately 4.5 million people. 

Marjorie and her neighbors can't go it alone - they need our support! Please join us in support of Marjorie’s life-sustaining work because we all live downstream.

RSVP & DONATE on EventBrite or Facebook

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Want to know more? 

The proposed hog CAFO in Fulton County would:

  • Apply over 11.4 million gallons of waste to land in our watershed
  • Pollute groundwater and drinking water aquifers, as manure will be spread in a Karst area. Some Karst features are springs, sinkholes, and underground streams.  
  • Threaten private drinking wells
  • Jeopardize aquatic habitat and trout fishing in Big Cove Creek
  • Harm local air quality
    • Not only do hog CAFOs create harsh odors for neighboring communities, but they also emit toxic pollutants, like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, that can cause serious health problems for residents.
    • Children and other vulnerable populations are more likely to experience asthmatic symptoms near hog CAFOs.
    • Unlike other industries, hog CAFOs are not regulated by the Clean Air Act.
  • Decrease overall water quality in the watershed
    • Runoff from hog CAFOs contains microbes, hormones, pesticides and other harmful chemicals that degrade water quality, kill fish, cause algal blooms, and impairs drinking water sources.
  • Use an estimated 14 million gallons of water each year
    • CAFOs and other agricultural operations are responsible for 80-90% of all water consumption, using 34-76 trillion gallons of water every year. 

Just one CAFO with 800,000 pigs generates 1.6 million tons of animal waste every year. This is as much waste is 1.5 times the amount of waste produced by the city of Philadelphia! Unlike human waste, animal waste from hog farms is often left untreated in open lagoons.  This waste also contains harmful microbes and hormones, that make their way into local waterways.

‘We Are All Downstream’ is dedicated to the memory of the late Kathy Ozer who for 24 years tirelessly advocated for small family farms as Executive Director of the National Family Farm Coalition.