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Q. There are really strong odors coming from a farm nearby and sometimes we can't go outside or open our windows. Doesn't USEPA regulate odor?
A. The Federal Clean Air Act (the Act) does not specifically regulate odor, however, odors are typically addressed through State nuisance regulations or common law of affected States. Contact your state environmental agency to get more specific information. Regarding odor concerns, odors are difficult to investigate due to the variation in odor thresholds of different pollutants and the varying sensitivity of individuals to odors. In some cases, odor concerns can be an be pursued through the application of the secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), discussed further below, in relation to enjoyment of life, property, and the environment.
Q. There is a proposal for an animal farm to be constructed near our neighborhood. What kind of pollution could this cause?
A: Hog, poultry, dairy, and other animal farms or operations are examples of Animal Feeding Operations or AFOs. Over the last several years, the USEPA has increased its focus on the potential emission of air pollutants from AFOs. In 2002, USEPA and the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) asked the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the available science concerning environmental and possible human health effects of these emissions. The Academy published its report, Air Emissions from Animal Feeding Operations: Current Knowledge, Future Needs, in 2003. The report is available online. In 2005, USEPA offered an opportunity for AFO owners and operators to voluntarily sign a Consent Agreement (the Animal Feeding Operations Air Compliance Agreement) to address air emissions from their operations. Owners or operators of nearly 2,700 AFOs, representing 6,700 farms in 42 states, signed up to participate. Participants are funding a nationwide study of air emissions from AFOs. The study should begin this year. USEPA will use the results of the study to determine the emission impacts of these facilities and to help determine if AFO specific regulations may be appropriate (more information about the Agreement). Typically, depending on the type of operations, an AFO could have the potential to emit pollutants such as, dust (particulate matter), ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, or volatile organic compounds (VOC's).
Q. In general, how does the USEPA regulate air pollution to ensure our air is safe?
A. USEPA uses six criteria pollutants as indicators of air quality: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and lead. For each of these, USEPA has established primary standards to protect public health, and secondary standards to protect other aspects of public welfare, such as preventing materials damage, preventing crop and vegetation damage, or assuring visibility. These standards are called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Geographic areas are then classified as either attainment, if they are in compliance with the NAAQS, or nonattainment if they are in violation of the NAAQS. More information on the NAAQS
The Act requires USEPA to regulate emissions of toxic or hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from a published list of industrial sources referred to as source categories. USEPA uses a technology based approach to reduce emissions of HAPs and currently regulates 188 HAPs. Sources that emit HAPs may be subject to the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards, which are technology based standards. USEPA also must assess the remaining health risks, or residual risks, from source categories, and may conduct a risk assessment. More information on the air toxics program.
The Act also requires two basic types of air pollution permits, construction permits and operating permits. New Source Review (NSR) is a permitting program that regulates the construction of major stationary sources of air pollution. NSR has two components; the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) permitting program in attainment areas, and the nonattainment area NSR permitting program. Sources are subject to one of these permitting programs if emissions of certain pollutants exceed a specific threshold.(For example, 250 tons per year of particulate matter.) These permits may also require appropriate pollution control measures. Generally, for major sources to obtain a PSD permit, the applicant must: (1) apply best available control technology (BACT); (2) conduct an ambient air quality analysis; (3) analyze impacts on soils, vegetation, and visibility; and (4) not adversely impact Class I areas (Class I areas are areas of special national or regional value from a natural, scenic, recreational, or historic perspective). To obtain a nonattainment area NSR permit an applicant must: (1) apply the lowest achievable emissions rate (LAER) technology; (2) obtain emissions offsets from other sources; (3) certify that all other major stationary sources owned by the applicant in the state are complying with all applicable requirements of the Act; and (4) analyze the benefits of the source and the environmental and social costs of the project. Sources that emit less than the NSR threshold level will obtain a minor construction permit from the state which is less complex than a major NSR permit.
Operation permits required for all major sources of air pollution are called Title V permits. Title V permits include all requirements from the Act for a source in a single, federally enforceable document. These permits also require the source to certify each year whether or not it has met the air pollution requirements in its title V permit and these certifications are public information. Non-major sources that are not required to obtain a Title V permit may obtain a minor operation permit from the state.
The state environmental agency is the authority responsible for issuing permits to sources in Region 5 states. The USEPA's role is to oversee the state's environmental programs, and to ensure that the proper permits are issued to regulated sources, and that proper pollution controls are placed on emission units subject to regulation. More information on the permitting program.
Q. If an AFO is required to obtain an air pollution control permit, how can I see it?
A. Once the state environmental agency has drafted any required NSR or Title V permit, there is a thirty day public comment period in which the public and USEPA can submit comments to the state agency on the permit. A public hearing can be requested if there is significant concern with the draft permit. There also is a thirty day appeal period following issuance of the final NSR permit in which the public can contest the permit. In addition, every proposed Title V permit has a 45 day EPA review period. If USEPA does not object to a proposed permit, the public may petition USEPA to object to the issuance of the permit within 60 days of the end of the USEPA review period. The state environmental agency is the appropriate governmental entity for you to contact to find out the status of any permit applications or proposed construction projects in your area. (See a list of Region 5 state environmental agencies.)
Q. Where can I get technical advice and funding for building a pond or other environmental improvement on my property?
A. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Cooperative Extension Service may be able to provide assistance to qualified landowners. Contact the office in your state.
Q. How can I figure out if I have a wetland on my farm?
A. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has the responsibility for identifying and delineating wetlands within agricultural lands. Other Federal agencies with wetlands regulatory authority accept NRCS wetland delineations in most cases. Contact the office in your state.