UPDATE: Since this article ran, the U.S. Congress blocked implementation of the greenhouse gas reporting rule provisions related to manure management systems (Subpart JJ) through funding restrictions in the Environmental Protection Agency’s fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill.  The bill also prohibits EPA from promulgating or implementing any regulations requiring Title V permits (also known as major source permits) for emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, or methane from “biological processes associated with livestock production.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule on Sept. 22 that requires 31 emissions-source categories, including a relatively small number of agricultural facilities, to report greenhouse gas emissions. Although the rule is limited to reporting and does not require any emissions controls, EPA may use the information gathered from the reports to craft regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources Subject to the Rule

Some emissions sources that are subject to the rule include agricultural facilities with “manure management systems”; landfills; certain manufacturing plants; certain fuel suppliers; certain vehicle manufacturers; and certain types of stationary fuel combustion equipment, including boilers, internal-combustion engines, process heaters and combustion turbines (excluding portable equipment, emergency generators, emergency equipment and agricultural irrigation pumps, among others).

Generally speaking, facilities are subject to the rule if they contain one of the subject source categories and emit 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent (also known as mtCO2e) annually from a subject source category.

The rule covers carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorochemicals, sulfur hexafluoride and other fluorinated gases but uses a calculation to normalize the emissions of these gases to a standard value, known as the carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e. According to EPA, the 25,000 mtCO2e threshold is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from approximately 2,300 homes or 4,600 cars.

Although EPA estimates that the rule will require reporting from nearly 10,000 facilities (accounting for 85 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), officials believe only 107 agricultural facilities will be subject to the rule.

Facilities with “Manure Management Systems”

The only agricultural operations directly regulated under the rule are livestock facilities with manure management systems that emit 25,000 or more mtCO2e. A manure management system is defined as a “system that stabilizes or stores livestock manure in uncovered anaerobic lagoons; liquid/slurry systems with and without crust covers (including but not limited to ponds and tanks); storage pits; digesters, including covered anaerobic lagoons; solid-manure storage; drylots, including feedlots; high-rise houses for poultry production (poultry without litter); poultry production with litter; deep-bedding systems for cattle and swine; manure composting; and aerobic treatment.”

EPA estimates that manure management systems were responsible for methane emissions of 44 million mtCO2e and nitrous oxide emissions of 14.7 million mtCO2e in 2007.

Facilities Exceeding the Emissions Threshold

The rule excludes other types of emissions sources at livestock facilities that are not within the 31 subject-source categories, including emissions directly from livestock, composting (that is not part of a manure management system) and burning of agricultural residues. It also excludes emissions that do not involve manure storage or stabilization (for example, spreading of manure), off-site manure management-related activities, and greenhouse gases captured from a manure management system.

However, agricultural facilities, including farms, that emit 25,000 mtCO2e from another source category that the rule covers will be required to report for that source category. For example, if a farm uses a boiler that emits 25,000 mtCO2e or more annually, it will be subject to the reporting rule even if it does not have a previously cited manure management system.

Animal Population Guidelines Help Determine Applicability

To ease the burden on agricultural producers to determine whether a facility is subject to the rule’s provisions that cover manure management systems, EPA established population thresholds for beef, dairy, poultry and swine operations. If the average animal population is below the threshold (34,100 head in the case of swine), reporting is not required and the facility does not need to calculate whether its manure management system emits 25,000 mtCO2e.

If the population meets or exceeds the threshold, the producer should calculate the amount of mtCO2e emitted annually for the facility. Facilities that have more than one animal group must use a calculation provided in the regulation to determine if the combined animal population exceeds the threshold. The producer carries the burden of determining whether a facility is subject to the rule or not and can use EPA’s online tool to help make this determination.

Monitoring Begins in 2010

Facilities subject to the reporting rule must begin monitoring on Jan.1, 2010, with the first report submitted on March 31, 2011 (covering 2010 emissions). Those agricultural facilities subject to the rule must report the total annual methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the entire manure management system and the amount of methane generated, destroyed and leaked from anaerobic digesters. Reports must be certified and submitted electronically.

EPA estimates the reporting cost for each agricultural facility subject to the rule will be about $500 annually with additional annual recordkeeping costs ($1,700) and emissions calculations ($900 for the first year and $400 annually thereafter).

It is also important to note that the rule does not preempt any state or local greenhouse gas reporting requirements. Therefore, facilities subject to the new rule may also be required to report under applicable state or local laws.

A producer’s facility may exit the rule if it can reduce emissions below the threshold and demonstrate that emissions remain below the threshold for a certain period. Reporting is not required if a facility can show it has reduced emissions below 15,000 mtCO2e for three consecutive years or between 15,000 mtCO2e and 25,000 mtCO2e for five consecutive years.

Possible Future Implications

Although a limited number of agricultural facilities are subject to the rule, it is important to understand that the regulation is designed to help develop a comprehensive program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from several sources, including agricultural facilities.  As EPA noted, “it is the next logical step in reducing and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.” 

EPA will likely use the information it gathers to better understand the quantity and type of greenhouse gas emissions and how they are associated with various sources. Future regulations may require facilities to install emissions controls or take other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s also possible EPA will amend the rule in the future to increase the type and number of facilities required to report.