Can The Horse Industry Work Alongside The Environmental Protection Agency? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Can The Horse Industry Work Alongside The Environmental Protection Agency?

Photo courtesy American Horse Council.

Why should the horse industry care about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? EPA regulations impact not only where we can operate equine activities, but also how. This often feels like government overreach and leads to a collective industry recoil from increased agency oversight.

The horse industry relies on healthy pastures, fields, and waterways to feed and care for the animals as well as provide safe recreation space. The EPA is tasked with maintaining a healthy ecosystem for everyone and thus has oversight of many economic sectors, not just agriculture. It's a big assignment and often that means unintentional impacts on industries such as our own. To manage the full breadth of EPA responsibilities, the agency is split into multiple offices that focus on a specific topics and can be mapped through the EPA Organization Chart.

When the EPA or any other federal agency proposes a new regulation (or rule), it is posted to the Federal Register and available for public commentary. It's the onus of stakeholders to submit commentary during the open window, often within 30-60 days of the initial publication. Anyone can submit a comment, and comments are able to be read by the general public. The Office of the Federal Register published a guide to rulemaking to help any party interested in submitting a comment. If a proposed rule is very complex, it is possible to request an extension to the commentary period, though it is not guaranteed to be granted.

Currently, there are several topics at hand at the EPA that deserve due diligence to understand the downstream effects on the horse industry.

Rodenticides and Insecticides

The EPA is charged with reviewing rodenticides (rodent baits) as well as topically and environmentally applied insecticides that include many products commonly used in the horse industry. These regulations are reviewed every 10-15 years. With each product review there is the chance of loss of use. Most recently at risk was pyrethrins (used in many common fly and tick repellent products) and the majority of rodent baits sold in quantities of five pounds or more. The EPA has pushed the final decision for these products to 2024 to allow for appropriate review of the comments submitted in the rulemaking process.

In addition, there was a whitepaper published in February 2023 to the Federal Register proposing changes to an EPA understanding with the Federal Drug Agency (FDA) to shift regulation of topical insecticides from the EPA to the FDA. There would be many downstream affects, including loss of stakeholder input, if this were to happen.

CAFOs, WOTUS definitions, and the Clean Water Act

Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs) are facilities that house livestock (inclusive of horses) 45 days or more per year in a confined area where forage doesn't grow. Many horse facilities, racetracks, and fair grounds qualify as CAFOs. CAFOs must be permitted, and the process may require expensive wastewater and manure management systems.

CAFO regulations originated from the Clean Water Act (CWA). Stemming from an update in 2015 for CWA designation, the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is a ruling from the 2015 Clean Water Rule. Historically, horse facilities have been a very small percentage of CAFO permits. However, recently there has been an increase in private environmental groups pushing for a wide range of horse operations to be regulated as CAFOs.

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PFAS – The Forever Chemical

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used worldwide since the 1940s. The most commonly studied PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). These two chemicals first entered the environment through discharge from chemical manufacturing facilities, as well as firefighting foam and other common industrial and consumer products.

According to the Center for Disease Control and the EPA, PFAS are widely used and long-lasting chemicals that break down very slowly, if at all. Because of their persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present in a variety of food products and in the environment. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

PFAS appeared on farms through the use of contaminated fertilizer from wastewater treatment facilities and irrigation from contaminated aquifers. There are many unknowns with PFAS. The EPA is working to research safe levels, proper site clean up protocols, and potentially regulate PFAS under CERCLA, also known as the “Superfund Law”. If PFAS are regulated under CERCLA, contaminated farms could be liable for clean-up costs despite unknowingly contaminating their property through fertilizing fields, which could total in the tens of millions of dollars.

Looking to the future

It's important to understand that EPA rulemaking and enforcement goals are often influenced by the changing policies of the Office of the President each election period. Further, regardless of what changes are made at the federal level, individual states have the right to further strengthen many EPA federal mandates. It's equally critical as an advocate to watch state specific rulemaking as closely as one watches Federal.

Simply opposing any and every new or updated EPA regulation doesn't help the horse industry (or the environment).  The horse industry must continue to strive to be model environmental stewards while working with the EPA and within the rulemaking process to find regulatory comprises that works for everyone.

To learn more about the issue the American Horse Council is following and regulations associated with EPA oversight, click here.

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