Farmers raising chickens all around Delmarva breathed a sigh of relief after Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, an omnibus spending bill that restores an exemption for farmers from burdensome regulations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA. This development followed testimony on Capitol Hill by Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. executive director Bill Satterfield in favor of standalone legislation restoring the farm exemption from CERCLA reporting. The effort to restore the exemption was led by farmers and animal agriculture groups around the country.
CERCLA is a law enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that require entities releasing hazardous substances, like ships or factories, to notify the federal government for emergency response purposes only. When the law was passed, EPA did not believe that reports on the routine release of low levels of ammonia from chicken houses, for instance, was included in the intent of the law. However, a lawsuit was filed by several environmental groups saying animal agriculture should not be excluded, and in April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of those groups. EPA then informed farmers they would need to make multiple reports estimating the routine air emissions from their chicken houses beginning May 1, 2018, although EPA had not been able to provide farmers with approved methods of determining those estimates.
Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland cosponsored the original legislation restoring agriculture’s longstanding exemption from CERCLA reporting. The inclusion of a permanent CERCLA exemption in the omnibus bill achieves the same result as those House and Senate bills.
The new law does not create a new reporting exemption. It merely restores the CERCLA reporting requirements to where they were since 2008, and it does not change reporting requirements under a different federal law (the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, or EPCRA) that requires emissions reporting to state and local emergency response agencies.
“With the looming uncertainty of CERCLA reporting now taken off farmers’ plates, chicken growers can turn their focus back to producing an economical, safe and wholesome supply of food for the United States and the world,” Satterfield said.