Agriculture is increasingly facing increased environmental pressure from regulators, activist groups and private citizens. As an environmental consulting firm, Dragun Corporation has worked with agriculture for over 30 years, helping to address complex issues such as nitrates in groundwater, PFAS contamination, groundwater supply and Moreover.
Farms in the eastern and southern United States have made headlines due to contamination with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Farms were impacted (groundwater and/or soil) in two ways. One comes from the use of fire-fighting foams used on military bases. These foams contained PFAS – and when sprayed, the PFAS on the surface reached groundwater.
Other farms commonly affected by PFAS come from municipal or industrial biosolids that have been applied to agricultural land. Municipal biosolids can be affected by PFAS from companies that use PFAS and discharge their wastewater into the municipality. Biosolids from industries that use PFAS in their manufacture, such as the paper industry, can also be a source of PFAS when applied to agricultural fields.
Groundwater impacted by PFAS on farms can be devastating. For example, groundwater containing PFAS should not be used as a source of drinking water for people or livestock. Animals that might have consumed groundwater could now be a liability. Farms may not be able to sell cow’s milk or meat from animals that have ingested the water. Additionally, PFAS can be transferred to crops that absorb PFAS-contaminated water.
The scope and extent of how PFAS have affected human health and the environment are not yet fully understood. We know that they are found virtually everywhere (including in the blood of many if not most humans) on the planet; however, the EPA has not yet established science-based cleanup criteria.
What to expect in 2022
In late 2021, the Biden administration established the PFAS strategic roadmap. The only mention of agriculture in the “roadmap” was a plan to finalize a risk assessment for two PFAS compounds for biosolids applied to agricultural fields. This assessment is not expected until winter 2024. As far as your farm is concerned, keep a pulse on national and local activity as well as activist projects. Additional pressure may come from processors who want to ensure that the milk supplied to them does not contain PFAS.
Respect the environment
In the fall of 2021, a farm in the Midwest was fined six figures for failing to comply with state environmental regulations. Within weeks of this fine, another enforcement action was taken in another state for violation of the Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) license. Just a year earlier, the US Department of Justice announced a record seven-figure CAFO settlement.
Several environmental laws can potentially apply to farms. These include the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program and the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) Rules under the Clean Water Act. water and the Federal Insecticides, Fungicides and Rodenticides Act (FIFRA). Several factors determine which regulations will apply. In general, the larger the farm (especially for livestock farms), the more likely environmental regulations will apply.
Discussions are also underway regarding the application of the Clean Air Act in large operations. In particular, there are concerns about ammonia and particulate (airborne dust and debris) emissions from some farms.
As with most environmental regulations, states with delegated regulatory authority are the most likely source of inspections and enforcement.
Fines for non-compliance can range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
What to expect in 2022
On October 1, 2021, the EPA released its draft Strategic Plan 2022-26. Goal three of seven is “Enforce environmental laws and ensure compliance”. This, combined with the 500 additional staff the EPA added under the Biden administration, may mean a greater focus on environmental compliance.
That said, environmental enforcement activity is more likely to come from local or state regulatory agencies. The most likely source of enforcement comes from citizen complaints. Maintaining good relations with your neighbors remains the most effective way to avoid visits from regulators.
Remotely detect CAFO violations
Large farms may be under additional surveillance through remote sensing. This, according to a pre-publication of an article by International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformationthe authors state, “Advances in remote sensing and computer vision… have the potential to increase compliance monitoring by detecting early warning signs of non-compliance.
They also state, “We demonstrate a process of rapidly identifying significant structural expansion using Planet’s 3m/pixel satellite imagery products and focusing on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the United States. States as a test case. Unauthorized expansion of buildings has been a particular challenge with CAFOs, which pose significant health and environmental risks.
The Biden administration has given every indication that it will focus on methane from the oil and gas industry. Using remote sensing, will it start monitoring methane from CAFOs?
What to expect in 2022
While this is an interesting development, it would be surprising to see the federal government use remote sensing to enforce CAFOs. However, the Biden administration is keenly focused on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), including methane. The fight against climate change is the number one objective of the administration’s draft strategic plan. We wouldn’t expect it to pick up any steam in the immediate future.
The other development that is important to farmers is the redefinition of what is and is not federally regulated waters. The definition of waters of the United States (WOTUS) has been debated for decades. Waterways included in the definition may limit agricultural activities near intermittent streams, ditches and wetlands. The rule crafted under the Trump administration, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), was struck down by the courts in the summer of 2021. A new WOTUS rule was proposed in December 2021 and will be a hot topic as we will move forward in 2022.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in late January to hear Sackett v. EPA, an important case that could decide the proper test for determining whether wetlands are U.S. waters, may have complicated the matter. WOTUS. Additionally, this decision may come before the new WOTUS rule by the Biden administration.
Finally, the protection of the environment, important for everyone, is both scientific and political. In 2022, we have plenty of politics (midterm elections, COVID recovery, inflation concerns and more) that can factor into local, state and federal decisions.
This article is provided for informational purposes only. Readers should consult their own professional advisers for specific advice tailored to their needs. Information in this article may be subject to change without notice.