U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) on Feb. 13 joined Senate Democrats in introducing the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act, S. 2421, which would relieve agricultural producers from certain requirements and penalties related to the release of hazardous substances from animal waste at their farms.

Specifically, S. 2421 would clarify that routine emissions from farm animals and their manure aren’t required to be reported under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.

“Treating farms, ranches and small livestock operations like Superfund sites is not what Congress intended when it passed CERCLA,” said Sen. Rounds, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and John Hoeven (R-ND) also signed on as original cosponsors to the bipartisan S. 2421, which included Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly from Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Chris Coons from Delaware, among the proposal’s total 21 original cosponsors.

According to a summary provided by several senators, both CERCLA and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) are federal laws that require entities to notify authorities when they release large quantities of hazardous materials.

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule exempting most livestock operations from the laws’ reporting requirements, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in April 2017 that the EPA didn’t have the authority to create this exemption for agriculture, according to the summary. Subsequently, confusion and uncertainty have reigned among agricultural producers across the United States, lawmakers said.

“They were not intended to be imposed on family farming operations. Our bill codifies this intent into law to prevent activist interest groups from attempting to redefine congressional intent related to CERCLA in the future,” Rounds said.

Indeed, according to the senators, both CERCLA and EPCRA requirements were meant to address unsafe industrial pollution, chemical plant explosions and the release of harmful materials into the environment, not animal waste emissions on farms and ranches.

Nevertheless, more than 100,000 operations across the nation could be forced to abide by such requirements if exemptions aren’t approved by Congress, according to Sen. Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“I’ve heard from Kansas farmers and ranchers that, unless Congress acts, they will be subject to another burdensome and unnecessary regulation that costs time, money and paperwork,” Roberts said. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act swiftly on this legislation and to get these producers the help they need.”

The bill would allow certain federally registered pesticides to remain exempt from reporting requirements under CERCLA. In addition, air emissions from farm animal waste would be exempted from reporting requirements under CERCLA. The legislation would help provide agriculture producers greater clarity by reinstating the status quo producers have been operating under since EPA’s 2008 final rule, according to the senators’ summary.

“Nebraska agriculture producers should be able to focus on doing their job of feeding the world without unnecessary distractions,” said Sen. Fischer, who serves on the Senate Agriculture and EPW committees. “Our legislation makes it clear that agriculture is exempt from these requirements and ensures producers in this country can continue to operate as they have been since 2008.”

Such an exemption “provides the relief Iowa’s farmers and ranchers deserve while promoting continued growth across the state,” where agriculture drives the expanding economy, said Sen. Ernst, also a member of the Senate Agriculture and EPW committees. S. 2421 is “a commonsense approach that protects livestock producers from burdensome EPA reporting requirements,” she added.

Sen. Coons, co-chair of the Senate Chicken Caucus, said he was honored to support the bill on behalf of his home state’s poultry farmers. “I believe that strong environmental protections must be balanced with an approach that makes sense for farmers who live and work on the land,” said Coons.

S. 2421 has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.