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Emission Reduction Credits As An Incentive To Voluntary Compliance

Emission Reduction Credits As An Incentive To Voluntary Compliance (findings from 2002 AAQTF)

An excellent incentive to agricultural producers that would promote the implementation of conservation practices concerning the air resource is to enable exempt sources, including confined animal facilities and agricultural irrigation internal combustion engine pumps, to generate Emission Reduction Credits (ERC’s). ERC’s are air pollutant emission reductions[1] “deposited” into an emissions bank established to enable improvements in air quality, such ‘banks’ may be formal or informal. By encouraging emission reductions from these exempt or uncontrolled sources without subjecting the farmers to restrictive local, State, or federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit requirements then offsetting revenue may then be generated from the marketing of such credits. In certain cases this offsetting revenue is the only economical means by which a conservation practice may be implemented on the farm.

Various federal and state governmental departments and agencies, including the federal EPA, the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), have entered into memoranda of understanding to encourage voluntary efforts to improve air quality in agricultural areas.  Creating ERC’s from mobile emission sources and exempt sources is encouraged in at least one state, California. There is one caveat to this strategy, federal EPA policy regarding the creation and banking of emission reduction credits resulting from voluntary implementation of conservation practices eliminate the operational flexibility so necessary to production agriculture. Current policy requires the arbitrary limiting of activities to an “average” historical level, the ineligibility of newly created dairies or farms to create emission reduction credits, extensive cumbersome record keeping, and a restrictive permit with the resultant fees, just to name a few. Briefly stated, current federal policy is being improperly applied to agricultural sources in a manner that actually discourages the voluntary implementation of conservation practices for the creation of ERC’s.  This current situation must be corrected if agricultural producers are going to be able to afford to participate in air quality environmental stewardship in a cost effective, competitive manner.

The USDA NRCS Agricultural Air Quality Task Force (AAQTF) is in an extremely unique and timely position to correct this situation.  The AAQTF has recommended a national policy for on implementing a voluntary incentive-based compliance strategy for agricultural producers. The AAQTF has the authority to recommend to the Chief[2] of the NCRS that a sound national policy implementing a Voluntary Incentive Based Compliance Program would authorize the voluntary generation of ERC’s from agricultural producers.  Further, agricultural ERC’s resulting from the implementation of air resource conservation practices or standards as identified in the NRCS field office technical guidance document would be eligible for banking from newly created facilities as well as existing. Agricultural operations should not be subjected to operational limitations based upon historical activity levels, nor should agricultural operations be subjected to permits to operate or onerous reporting requirements as a condition to banking or marketing such credits to non production agricultural sources currently subject to federal and/or state permit programs.

As has occurred in the past and evident in the present, the USDA NRCS has an excellent track record in implementing programs in a manner that recognizes the uniqueness of production agriculture and its record of environmental stewardship. Generating marketable emission reduction credits is a valid component of a Voluntary Incentive Based Compliance Program and the AAQTF is urged to recommend that this ERC’s component be recognized immediately in those areas of the country currently in non-attainment of the federal ambient air quality standards.

[1] Air Pollutants include, but are not limited to criteria pollutants as identified in the federal Clean Air Act, precursor pollutants, or greenhouse gas emissions.

[2] Mr. Pearlee Read, Chief, United States Department Of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service