The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted to provide for cleanup of the worst industrial chemical toxic waste dumps and spills, such as oil spills and chemical tank explosions. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted to ensure that parties who emit hazardous chemicals submit reports to their local emergency responders to allow for more effective planning for chemical emergencies. Both of these laws include reporting requirements connected to the events at hand.
Neither of these laws were intended to govern agricultural operations, for whom emissions from livestock are a part of everyday life. To make this clear, in 2008, EPA finalized a rule to clarify that farms were exempt from CERCLA reporting and small farms, in particular, were exempt from EPCRA reporting, given that low-level livestock emissions are not the kind of "releases" that Congress intended to manage with these laws. Upon being sued in 2009, the Obama Administration's EPA defended the exemption in court on the grounds that CERCLA and EPCRA did not explicitly exempt farms because Congress never believed that agriculture would ever be viewed as covered under these statutes, so a specific exemption was not viewed to be necessary. Unfortunately, in April 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated the EPA's 2008 exemption, putting nearly 100,000 farms under the regulatory reporting authorities enshrined in CERCLA and EPCRA.
Importantly, emergency responders do not see value in the reporting from farms and the influx of agricultural reports will actually hurt emergency response coordination. The National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials, which represents state and local emergency response commissions, notes the continuous reports "are of no value to [Local Emergency Planning Committees] and first responders" and that the reports "are generally ignored because they do not relate to any particular event." The U.S. Coast Guard stated that early calls from farmers have "increased [initial notifications] from approximately 100-150 calls per day (not associated with air releases from farms) to over 1,000 phone calls per day." This influx has negatively impacted the Coast Guard's ability to coordinate responses for true emergencies. The Coast Guard further indicated the abundance of farm calls meant that "wait times have been up to two hours for calls, many of which require immediate attention". CERCLA and EPCRA were intended to focus on significant events like spills or explosions, not routine emissions from farms and ranches. And furthermore, these reporting requirements have already begun to hurt responders' ability to do their job to protect the public health. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Court recently granted a stay that will expire on January 22, 2018, which provides precious little time for Congress to act. We urge Congress to uphold congressional intent as backed by the Bush and Obama Administrations; avoid an unnecessary regulatory burden that is of no use to emergency responders and will actually hurt their capabilities; and prevent farms and ranches from facing an added challenge in an already difficult farm economy.
We strongly urge Congress to pass legislation that will eliminate the reporting burden for agricultural producers.