The Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a proposal that would substantially lower thresholds allowable for ground-level ozone, which could have a significant impact on farmers and the rural communities they live in.
Although it remains unclear how the proposed regulations could directly impact farmers, it’s troubling on the impact to inputs agricultural producers use, as well as decisions bureaucrats could make that could directly influence production practices.
A statement from The Fertilizer Institute said experts say the proposal “would be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public.”
EPA has proposed to set both the primary (health) and secondary (welfare) standards as 8-hour standards in a range from 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb), down from the previous standard of 75 ppb. They’re also seeking comments on a range as low as 60 ppb.
Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says that the lower threshold likely will bring additional counties into nonattainment, including many rural counties, not the urban counterparts most commonly associated with ozone and smog concerns.
Emissions from sources such as cars, trucks, buses, engines, industries, power plants and products such as solvents and paints are among the major manmade sources of ozone-forming emissions.
Walmsley says on-road and off-road vehicles could see additional stipulations. Off-road diesel engines, as an example, could require retrofitting and additional costs to farmers that cannot be passed on.
Each state determines how to reduce an area’s pollution to meet the standards in a way that makes the most sense for that area. But the standards do not establish emission control requirements for any particular industry, including agriculture, EPA says.
EPA explains the vast majority of states have not required their agriculture industries to take any actions that require emission reductions, instead focusing their efforts on reducing emissions of the pollutants that form ozone from sources such as industrial processes and consumer products.
However, Gary Baise, lawyer at OFW Law, warns that some states could go after agricultural practices because they’ve done all they can to reduce ozone emissions from other industries.
An EPA fact sheet on the rule’s impact on agriculture reveals that in California, some nonattainment areas are addressing ozone-forming emissions from agriculture by incorporating conservation management practices developed with growers and USDA into ozone implementation plans for those nonattainment areas. According to EPA, “These include a menu of options growers can choose from, such as spray application technologies or integrated pest management strategies, and limiting combustion emissions from engines by combining or reducing tillage operations to reduce the number of passes through fields.”
Baise worries that as EPA points to California as an example, that it could encourage other states to follow suit and do things such as limit herbicide or fungicide use or even limit the number of passes machinery can take over a field.
This regulation is another major attempt by EPA to shift energy use away from coal-fired plants, many of which provide electricity in rural America. Walmsley warns that, as there continues to be a growing shift to more natural gas and away from cheaper coal, costs will likely increase.
In addition, becoming more reliant on natural gas for energy long term changes the current balance of natural gas used in fertilizer, and likely would result in higher fertilizer costs as natural gas becomes more important to fuel the U.S, he adds.
Baise says it will be important for farm groups to begin working with state EPA offices and explaining what the proposal could mean for agriculture and individual states.
Industry groups express concern that the new rule “moves the goalposts” with another set of requirements without letting the 2008 existing ozone standards be fully implemented. EPA needs to allow existing ozone standards to be implemented and give time for American businesses to meet those already stringent and onerous requirements, said the National Association of Manufacturers in a statement.
“Manufacturers in the United States are working hard for a manufacturing comeback, attempting to utilize America’s unmatched energy resources, building hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new facilities across the country. These are the facilities that make advanced cars and trucks, steel pipelines, fertilizer to grow our crops and roofing and insulation that keep our energy bills down. This new ozone regulation threatens to be the most expensive ever imposed on industry in America and could jeopardize recent progress in manufacturing by placing massive new costs on manufacturers and closing off counties and states to new business by blocking projects at the permitting stage,” says Jay Timmons, NAM president and chief executive officer.
- For more on the EPA's regulatory efforts, read Gary Baise’s Defending Agriculture blog.