Monday, October 31, 2011

New Child Labor Restrictions Will Impact Farm Life

I had a relatively safe childhood.  No broken bones, no separated clavicles, no missing fingers or toes.  My worst injury occurred when I sliced into my thumb while using a handsaw at camp.  Still, not all farm kids avoid minor and serious injuries because, let's face it, there are certain risks that come with working around livestock and heavy machinery--whether you are an adult, adolescent, or child.
Boys bringing home hay in the 1970s.
The U.S. Department of Labor believes that farm children need more protection from the dangers of farm work.  The Department has proposed revising current child labor regulations.  As explained by Farm Journal, childhood injuries have always been a risk associated with farm life.
The proposed changes prohibit children under the age of 18 from working with animals and in pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. They also prohibit youths at grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feedlots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
Children under the age of 16 would be prohibited from operating most power-driven equipment as well as connecting or disconnecting an implement or any part of the machine. All youths would be prohibited from using electronic devices while operating equipment as well.
The proposed revisions do not apply to farm owners’ children, but they do apply to other young relatives.
These revisions mark the first time the Fair Labor Standards Act has been updated since 1970. The changes have been on the horizon for months and were announced in September. Their release came shortly after the agriculture community was deeply saddened by the loss of two girls in an irrigation accident in Illinois and the severe injury of two boys in Oklahoma from a grain auger accident.
The new regulations can be found in the Federal Register.  You are invited to submit comments on these regulations directly to the Department of Labor at or U.S. mail:

Wage and Hour Division
U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3502
200 Constitution Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20210

Working on a farm has always come with an element of danger, but does this danger warrant more strict child labor regulations?  Voice your concerns by letting the U.S. Department of Labor know how you feel about these proposed changes.  Comments are due by December 1, 2011.

By Todd J. Janzen

Friday, October 21, 2011

EPA Proposes New Reporting Rule for CAFOs

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a new rule that would require concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to submit certain operational information to the EPA.  Such information would include the size of the farm and the total available land application area for the CAFO.  The reporting requirements are the result of a settlement agreement reached between the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club.  
The proposed rule is unique in that it proposes two different options for how CAFOs would be required to submit the information.  Under the first option, all CAFOs, regardless of size, would be required to submit the requested information to the EPA. The EPA estimates that approximately 20,000 CAFOs would be subject to reporting under this option. Individual states can submit the information directly to the EPA if the information has already been gathered under a state regulatory program.  If the state does not have the information or chooses not to submit it, the EPA will request that individual CAFOs respond directly to the request.

Under the second option, only those CAFOs in focus watersheds that have water quality concerns would be required to report information to the EPA.  A focus watershed is would be identified on a case-by-case basis based upon: vulnerable ecosystems, proximity of drinking water source supply, watersheds with high recreational value, high densities of animals, patterns of vulnerable soils, and other factors.  

The EPA is requesting public comment on both options as well as alternative approaches to gather information. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, which occurred today. The EPA plans to take final action on this proposal by July 2012.  

By Todd J. Janzen

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dust in the Wind: The EPA's Regulation of Farm Dust

This past year there has been much speculation about whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will regulate "dust" blowing off of America's farms and farm fields.  The controversy originated with the conclusion of the EPA's five year review study of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which suggested that the threshold for regulation of coarse particulate matter (PM-10) be reduced from the current 150 μg/m3 to 65-85 μg/m3.  While making a farmland tour earlier this spring, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson attempted to debunk speculation about whether such findings in the NAAQS would result in more stringent air regulations on farms, calling these suggestions "not true."    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also got in on the controversy, calling the speculation that the EPA would regulate farm dust a "myth."

But that was not the end of the matter since the EPA had not made a final decision as to whether PM regulations would be increased.  The issue surfaced again in various GOP presidential debates and culminated in H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, a bi-partisan bill that seeks to exempt so-called "nuisance dust" from the EPA's regulation under the Clean Air Act.

Today the EPA weighed in again on this issue.  Mary Clare Jalonick at the Associated Press reports:
The EPA is trying to put to rest what it calls a "myth" that it is going to crack down on farm dust.  In letters to two senators last week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency won't expand its current air quality standards to include dust created by agriculture.

Republicans and some farm-state Democrats have used the issue on the campaign trail, arguing that the EPA is set to penalize farmers for everyday activities. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said in a recent debate that the agency is "out of control" and was preparing to regulate dust.

Republicans in Congress have used the hypothetical dust rule as an argument against government regulations they say could eliminate jobs. Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, have pushed legislation that would block the rule if it had been proposed.

Obama administration officials have tried to deflect talk of a dust rule for months, to little avail. A statement released by the agency Monday said that "EPA hopes that this action finally puts an end to the myth that the agency is planning to expand regulations of farm dust."

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said there has been considerable anxiety in farm country about the possibility of increased regulation on agriculture.

"We hope this action finally puts to rest the misinformation regarding dust regulation and eases the minds of farmers and ranchers across the country," Johnson said.

Noem issued a statement saying that the announcement does nothing to change the fact that the agency has the ability to regulate farm dust. But Johanns called the EPA statement a "victory," saying he would abandon an amendment on the issue he planned to offer to a spending bill this week.

"EPA has finally provided what I've been asking for all along," Johanns said. "Unequivocal assurance that it won't attempt to regulate farm dust."
Will these be the end of the matter?  Stay tuned.

By Todd J. Janzen

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Deadline looms to comply with SPCC rule

Update:  On October 18, 2011, the EPA issued a final rule extending the November 10, 2011 compliance deadline for certain farms until May 10, 2013.  Review the Federal Register or consult an attorney to determine whether your farm must have a SPCC plan and by when.  The original article below was written before October 18, 2011 and did not take the rule revision into account.    

By November 10, 2011, many farms must have a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plan in place.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has promulgated a rule under the Clean Water Act that requires all farms (and other industries) to provide secondary containment for oil-containing structures over a certain size.  To determine whether you must comply with the rule, answer the following questions:

  • Does my farm store more than 1,320 gallons of oil (or any related substance like diesel fuel, gasoline, hydraulic oil) above ground?  
  • Does my farm store more than 42,000 gallons of oil (or any related substance) in an underground storage tank (UST)? 

When calculating total gallonage, the EPA uses the "shell" of the container.  Thus, a 50,000 gallon UST that routinely stores 20,000 gallons of oil would still require an SPCC plan.  Using the shell method for calculating, if your farm answers "yes" to either question above, you need a SPCC plan.

An SPCC plan describes the spill prevention practices, drainage controls, personnel, equipment and resources necessary by the farm to prevent oil spills from reaching navigable waters. Each SPCC plan is unique to the facility, and will contain the following:
  • Operating procedures at the facility to prevent oil spills; 
  • Control measures (such as secondary containment) installed to prevent oil spills from entering navigable waters or adjoining shorelines; and 
  • Countermeasures to contain, cleanup, and mitigate the effects of an oil spill that has impacted navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. 
In addition, if your farm's above ground storage of oils exceeds 10,000 gallons, the SPCC plan will need to be certified by a Professional Engineer (PE).

This article should not be construed as legal advice.  Consult an attorney when determining whether your facility needs a SPCC plan.