The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a landmark agreement to study air emissions from livestock and poultry operations. It is the result of work between EPA and representatives from the dairy, pork, egg and poultry industries.

The agreement is part of EPA’s ongoing effort to minimize air emissions from animal feeding operations (AFOs) to ensure those operations comply with the Clean Air Act and other laws. Though EPA previously has brought Clean Air Act enforcement actions against AFOs, more data are necessary to determine whether operations are in violation, the nature and extent of any violations and the best practices to control industry-wide emissions.

A key part of this agreement is a two-year benchmark study of the air emissions from participating livestock and poultry operations across the country. Based on study findings, EPA will set national air policies, identify farm emissions thresholds, and then regulate excessive levels. But, before these policy changes can happen both producers and regulators need to know how the air laws apply to farms of different size, design and location.

"This agreement is a huge step forward," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA’s 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."

In recent years, the increased size and consolidation of agricultural operations including poultry, swine and dairy operations have been the focus of an increasing number of citizen complaints and concern about possible health impacts. A 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences called on EPA to improve its method for estimating emissions from AFOs – a key step in mitigating air pollution from those operations. If all goes as planned, the agreement will enable EPA and livestock producers to find a mutually agreeable way to accomplish that goal.

Producers who sign up for the Air Quality Compliance Agreement will be required to abide by a list of key components, including:

  • Pay a civil penalty, ranging from $200 to $100,000, depending on the size and number of AFOs.
  • Pay up to $2,500 into a fund for a nationwide emissions monitoring program.
  • Make facilities available for monitoring.
  • Apply for all applicable air permits and comply with permit conditions.
  • Install Best Available Control Technology or control technology meeting the Lowest Achievable Emission Rate on all sources that exceed the “major source” threshold for their area.
  • Report any qualifying releases of ammonia (NH3) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) as required by section 103 of CERCLA and section 304 of EPCRA.

In return, AFOs that satisfy these requirements will receive, from EPA, a covenant not to sue for past violations of:

  • Clean Air Act permitting requirements in Title V, and Title I Parts C & D Prevention of Significant Deterioration/New Source Review, and State Implementation Plans arising from emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), or Particulate Matter (PM) from animal confinement structures and agricultural livestock waste lagoons.
  • CERCLA section 103 and EPCRA section 304 hazardous substance reporting requirements arising from releases of (NH3) and H2S from animal confinement structures and agricultural livestock waste lagoons.

However, EPA will continue to prosecute cases that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health. The emissions of air pollutants and hazardous substances from certain feeding operations may be subject to requirements of the Clean Air Act and notification provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

Additional limitations of EPA’s covenant not to sue include:

  • The agreement applies to past violations and will terminate after a short period following the monitoring program.
  • It covers only violations related to emissions from agricultural livestock and agricultural livestock waste.
  • It does not cover emissions from generators or other internal combustion engines, waste-to-energy systems and land application of animal waste. The covenant not to sue also does not cover emissions from sources not participating in the Agreement.
  • It does not affect permits required for new construction or modification of existing AFOs.
  • The covenant not to sue will be nullified if AFOs fail to comply with state nuisance final orders relating to air emissions.
  • AFOs that are subject to federal or state Clean Air Act, CERCLA section 103 or EPCRA section 304 enforcement actions may not be eligible to enter into the Agreement.

Producers that want to participate in the program must sign up to participate within 90 days of the rule being published in the Federal Register. EPA submitted the agreement on Jan. 21 for publication. You can access the document that was submitted for publication at:

EPA will accept public comment on the agreement for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register. For information on the consent agreement, including how to submit comments, go to: