Debate reopens on emission regulations for US dairy farms

The public is being asked for opinions on whether to impose standards for atmospheric pollution, with potentially far-reaching repercussions.  

The debate on whether regulators should enforce maximum limits on emissions from US dairy farms is reopening with Oregon’s state Environmental Quality Commission inviting citizens to share their views. 

black and white cow on brown field during daytime

Currently, around 1.5% of the country’s entire greenhouse gas contribution comes from dairy farming, with ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, nitrous oxide, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, which create ozone, all traceable to the industry.

Oregon itself has seen exponential growth in the dairy sector, with the number of cows tripling in the past 30 years, and almost nine times the number of farms with more than 1,000 cows on site compared to 1997, with some housing more than 70,000 animals. As of 2004, the state’s ammonia emissions were among the highest nationally. 

Currently, no single policy on agricultural air pollution covers the entire US, with each state left to decide on its own general air quality measures to fall in line with the federal Clean Air Act. Individual proposals are subject to approval by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, community managers across the country are able to us the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know system, wherein any large animal-based operation exceeding 100lbs of hydrogen sulfide or ammonia per day must register and report output, and that data is kept in the public realm. Crucially, though, a 2008 rule effectively exempts the majority of agricultural facilities from this. 

As such, if Oregon’s public consultation does lead to new regulations aimed squarely at agriculture’s largest contributing sector to air pollution it could have serious repercussions in providing a blueprint for other states to follow suit. The relationship between farming and ambient air pollution is slowly rising in terms of public agenda, with Air Quality News recently publishing an in-depth look at how fertilisers contribute to the pollutants we breath, and impact overall food security. 

Image: Austin Santaniello


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