The animal sector of agriculture has undergone major changes in the last several decades, a fact that has drawn the attention of policymakers and the public. In particular, organizational changes within the industry to enhance economic efficiency have resulted in larger confined production facilities that often are geographically concentrated.1 Increased facility size and regional concentration of livestock and poultry operations have, in turn, given rise to concerns over the management of animal wastes from these facilities and potential impacts on environmental quality, public health and welfare.

Animal manure can be and frequently is used beneficially on farms to fertilize crops and add or restore nutrients to soil. However, animal waste, if not properly managed, can adversely impact water quality through surface runoff and erosion, direct discharges to surface waters, spills and other dry-weather discharges, and leaching into soil and ground. It can also result in emission to the air of particles and gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic chemicals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 1997, 66,000 operations had farm-level excess nitrogen (an imbalance between the quantity of manure nutrients produced on the farm and assimilative capacity of the soil on that farm), and 89,000 had farm-level excess phosphorus.2 USDA believes that where manure nutrients exceed the assimilative capacity of a region, the potential is high for runoff, leaching of nutrients, and other environmental problems. Geographically, areas with excess farm-level nutrients correspond to areas with increasing numbers of confined animals.

Federal environmental law does not regulate all agricultural activities. Some laws specifically exempt agriculture from regulatory provisions, and others are structured so that farms escape most, if not all, of the regulatory impact. Still, certain large animal feeding operations (AFOs) where animals are kept and raised in confinement are subject to environmental regulation. The primary regulatory focus on environmental impacts has been on protecting water resources and has occurred under the Clean Water Act. In addition, facilities that emit large quantities of air pollutants may be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Some livestock operations also may be subject to requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, the Superfund law) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).3 The issue of applicability of these laws to livestock and poultry operations — especially CERCLA and EPCRA — has been controversial and has drawn congressional attention.

This chapter describes the provisions of Superfund and EPCRA, and enforcement actions under these laws that have increasingly been receiving attention. Congressional scrutiny in the form of legislative proposals and a House hearing in the 109th Congress are discussed. Bills intended to exempt animal manure from the requirements of Superfund and EPCRA were introduced in the 109th Congress, but no legislation was enacted. Similar bills have been introduced in the 110th Congress (H.R. 1398 and S. 807). Issues raised by the legislation are analyzed.

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