Environmental group petitions EPA to regulate ammonia under the Clean Air Act

Mitigation strategies may be needed for some crop and livestock farms.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates airborne ammonia under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) as a hazardous substance. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) characterizes ammonia as a toxin because exposure to airborne ammonia can result in severe respiratory effects. On April 6 a group of organizations, led by the Environmental Integrity Project, petitioned EPA to regulate ammonia as a criteria pollutant under the Clean Air Act, Sections 108 and 109. See the full petition.

EPA has the authority to designate pollutants that endanger public health or welfare as ‘criteria pollutants’, and to establish protective primary and secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for these pollutants, under Sections 108 and 109 of the Clean Air Act. If EPA were to list ammonia as a criteria pollutant under Section 108, activities under Section 109 would follow. These activities include setting a schedule for development of primary and secondary standards under NAAQS to protect public health and welfare. If an area (often defined as a county) exceeds the NAAQS for a criteria pollutant the appropriate permitting agency is charged with developing a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to bring the area into attainment of the standard. This often leads to identification of sources and practices to reduce the emission of the pollutant within the affected region.  Currently there are six EPA designated criteria pollutants: 1) carbon monoxide, 2) nitrogen dioxide, 3) ozone, 4) lead, 5) sulfur dioxide, and 6) particulate matter.

Under Section 109(d) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator and independent scientific review committee must re-evaluate both the list of criteria pollutants and the NAAQS in five-year intervals. The ozone standards were recently reviewed and recommendations are expected out soon.

If the Environmental Integrity Project’s petition is successful and ammonia is listed as a criteria pollutant the action has the potential to significantly impact food production. Agriculture (both animal and crop agriculture) is the largest source of ammonia emissions. Development of primary and secondary standards under the Clean Air Act for ammonia could mean that mitigation is required for point sources (i.e. CAFOs) that exceed the standards. This could also mean that some of the CAFOs will require permits under Title V. States with designated authority will oversee the permitting process and enforce standards.

This petition follows a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project that interpreted findings of an industry-funded EPA study that monitored ammonia, particulates, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds from CAFOs across the country.

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