As part of an effort to minimize air emissions from animal feeding operations, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that an air-quality compliance agreement had been reached.

The agreement will help ensure those feeding operations comply with the Clean Air Act and other laws, the EPA said.

"This agreement is a huge step forward," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "It will allow us to reach the largest number of AFOs in the shortest period of time and ensure that they comply with applicable clean air requirements."

The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that animal feeding operations, or AFOs, comply with applicable environmental requirements and to gather scientific data the agency needs to make informed regulatory and policy determinations, the EPA said. "The agreement will establish an industry-funded emissions monitoring program that will help provide this information, leading to better tools to help the farm industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA determine the compliance status of feeding operations," the EPA said.

AFO operators participating in the agreement will pay a civil penalty of between $200 and $100,000, based on the size and number of farms in their operation, and also will contribute to a fund that will cover the cost of the two-year emissions monitoring program. Qualifying AFOs may sign up to participate within 90 days following publication of the agreement in the Federal Register, the EPA noted.

Though participating AFOs will not be sued for past violations, provided that they comply with specific conditions, the agreement does not limit the EPA's ability to take action in the event of imminent and substantial danger to public health or the environment.

AFOs that are the subject of current enforcement actions may be barred from joining the study. The agreement also preserves state and local authorities' authority to enforce local odor or nuisance laws.

The increased size and consolidation of agricultural operations in recent years, including poultry, swine and dairy operations, has been the focus of an increasing number of citizen complaints and concern about possible health impacts, the EPA said.

Data from the monitoring program will help EPA develop a method for estimating emissions from different types and sizes of feeding operations. Once these methods have been established, operators will be required to apply for all applicable air permits, install all needed controls, implement all required practices, and otherwise come into full compliance.

Source: Government Release