Fresh from the announcement of the Air Emissions Consent Agreement and the informational meetings that followed, I've already heard from friends and foes of the move.
The friends, of course, include the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) staff and producer leadership who helped negotiate the agreement, the National Pork Board, who allocated $6 million in Pork Checkoff monies to support a two-year research effort to build a bank of scientifically sound data needed to establish realistic air emissions compliance thresholds and, of course, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with whom the agreement was made. Add in the egg and poultry producers and dairymen, and you have a pretty strong contingency in American agriculture.
The critics are a little harder to identify and understand. They point to the Clean Air Act and remind everyone that federal air emissions laws have been on the books for many years. That's certainly true. But then they criticize the EPA for striking an agreement with livestock and poultry producers, saying it smacks of some sort of “sweet deal.” And, they imply that these segments of American agriculture somehow feel that the Clean Air Act doesn't apply to them.
Certainly, that's not a fair assessment.
In fact, the EPA, the USDA and the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that air emissions data they needed simply doesn't exist.
Would these dissenters prefer the federal agencies simply extrapolate data from the “smokestack” industries and apply it to livestock production? Perhaps they'd be satisfied with a few studies from non-agricultural industries or untested formulas or computer models to set the new standards.
Never mind that the equipment needed to identify the gases and particulate matter emitted from livestock barns needs to be tested and certified.
Never mind the diversity of facilities, climate, nutrition and other environmental inputs that uniquely affect emissions from livestock facilities.
Never mind the need for good science that will stand up to research scrutiny and/or legal challenge.
To date, most of the effort aimed at cleaning up air pollutants has been aimed at industrial business and automobiles. Air standards have not been applied to agriculture, but crop and livestock production has never been exempt from the rules.
Now, lack of information doesn't always stop regulators from trying to regulate, but to EPA's credit, they recognized real life, real time, on-site measures were needed.
Again, the critics raising a stink about the agreement seem to have missed the point — the science for accurately measuring emissions is inadequate. Isn't it ironic that the critics didn't get that — but the regulators did?
For my money, I always vote in favor of supporting good science. Yes, for the record, as a pork producer, I do contribute to both organizations through the mandatory checkoff when I sell hogs and I voluntarily contribute to the NPPC's Strategic Investment Program (SIP). And I feel the emissions agreement negotiations spearheaded by the NPPC and pork checkoff funding are some of the best examples I've seen of each organization playing a vital role in contributing to the betterment of pork producers as a whole.
Most understand that pork checkoff dollars cannot be spent on lobbying and policy issues. The voluntary contributions to NPPC through the SIP are earmarked for that purpose. Two organizations serving the common good of pork producers.
I know, there's been a lot of debate about where funds collected through the legislative checkoff should be spent. Some feel the checkoff should be lowered as an incentive for producers to be more generous in their support of the non-restrictive SIP program.
That checkoff debate will probably continue until the Supreme Court justices rule on the beef checkoff, which will ultimately affect all commodity checkoff programs. The justices can vote in favor of retaining current checkoff programs as written into law, or they can order them completely disbanded. A third scenario might be to direct commodities to cease all advertising and promotions, the main gripe of anti-checkoff faction, but leave the producer education and research portions of the respective laws in tact.
Ultimately, I feel it is critical to protect a portion of industry funds for non-proprietary research to ensure access to all, regardless of size or affiliation. The consent agreement is a good example of research funding that does that.
Learning more about the Air Emissions Consent Agreement should be high on your priority list. Start with the overview on page 10, which provides two Web sites for more information and copies of the agreement. Be sure to review the common legal question and answer sidebar, then obtain knowledgeable legal counsel to make the best possible decision for your operation.