By Cheryl Stubbendieck
Vice president/public relations
Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation
Let's be perfectly clear about this: Manure has been called many things but it is not hazardous waste.
To farmers, it's not waste at all; it's a nutrient-rich fertilizer valuable for crop production. But some state and local governments and some courts believe manure is waste and hazardous waste at that--and that it should be regulated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, better known as the Superfund Act.
In testimony before Congress on Nov. 16, Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Steve Kouplen said overzealous government officials have charged in court that the use of manure as fertilizer causes contamination and damage to natural resources. Manure has been the basis for fertilizing ground since time began, he pointed out, and farmers and ranchers are being successful in controlling runoff from manure applied to farm ground.
The courts are being asked to limit farmers' rights to use natural fertilizer, he said, and emphasized that the enforcement of Superfund against farmers would expose them to liabilities and penalties that Congress never intended. He cited a court case filed by the Oklahoma attorney general against poultry processors. The attorney general is alleging, under Superfund and the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act, that natural resources damages to the Illinois River watershed resulted from the improper application of poultry litter as fertilizer. Poultry producers deny the contentions and point to their cooperation with state and federal agencies in filing nutrient management plans.
Kouplen asked in his testimony if manure is classified as hazardous waste, will farmers need to incinerate it or have special permits to transport it? And, because phosphates in the manure are the main concern for those who favor the hazardous waste definition, will homeowners be allowed to apply phosphate-based fertilizers to their lawns? If so, we could all have a personal Superfund cleanup site in our own backyards.
Manure is already well-regulated under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and countless state laws. Farm Bureau firmly believes that Congress never intended that animal manure should be considered a hazardous waste to be regulated under the Superfund Act. It seems bizarre that we need to ask this, but Congress needs to reaffirm that manure is only that--and not a hazardous waste.