Counties get new money to fix roads after tough winter

Capital News Service

LANSING — County road commissions, faced with unexpectedly severe road deterioration, have welcomed additional road funding approved recently by the state.

The Legislature allocated $175 million to the Department of Transportation (MDOT) to spend on summer road maintenance.

“With the spring flood event, we definitely got into the carry-over from last year and we’ll be able to make the repairs we need to without worrying about canceling any projects for this year,” said Chris Minger, the managing director for the St. Joseph County Road Commission.

“If this would have happened a few years back we would have had to cancel quite a few projects,” Minger said.

Counties saw greater road break-up than they budgeted for this winter, said Ed Noyola, the deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan.

“Generally we don’t allocate for such a multitude of spring breakups, and that’s going to affect most budgets,” Noyola said, “but it’s just going to depend on what part of the state you’re in.

“Counties budget for winter and non-winter maintenance,” Noyola said. “Anything that goes beyond the winter maintenance starts leaking into the non-winter maintenance money in order to fill these potholes — which means they won’t have as much money to make improvements.”

MDOT is scheduled to see a more permanent funding increase of $1.2 billion over the next three years as part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s road funding package passed in 2015.

According to a 2015 report by MDOT, “we needed an additional $2.2 billion annually in order to make substantial improvements,” Noyola said.

“We got $1.2 billion,” Noyola said, “and that won’t be fully phased in until 2021.”

Road commissions are cautious about assuming that the funding will come through.

“With term limits coming up, a lot of the legislators that passed the bill are going to be gone,” said Brian Gutowski, the managing director for the Emmet County Road Commission. “We have to make sure that the new group of representatives and senators that come in are going to follow through.”

If that funding doesn’t come through, “then all my plans to get this 148 miles of roads done will be thrown out the window,” Gutowski said. “We have just enough to keep our head above water and keep the roads in the condition they’re in now.”

Counties receive funding based on the miles of roads, vehicle registrations and population in their counties, Noyola said.

Michigan requires road commissions to perform preventive maintenance on good roads first as part of an asset management plan.

Keeping the road system in fair to good condition is the most efficient and cost-effective method, said Deepak Gupta, the engineering manager for the Clare County Road Commission.

“What you don’t want to do is fix the worst first,” Gupta said.

The quality of roads is rated as good, fair or poor.

Good roads have relatively new pavement and require little maintenance, Gutowski said.

Improving roads in fair condition can cost between $20,000 and $115,000 per mile, and poor roads can cost between $275,000 and $350,000 to bring them back to good condition, Gutowski said.

“We have about 90 miles of primary roads that are in poor condition,” Gutowski said. We would have to spend $25 million on those 90 miles to get those back into good condition.”

Bill would require latex-using restaurants to notify customers

Capital News Service

LANSING — Restaurants that use latex gloves might be forced to notify their customers because the gloves leave traces of latex protein on food — causing allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, is sponsoring a bill that would require restaurants using latex gloves during food preparation to post a notice.

According to the American Latex Allergy Association, an estimated 3 million people in the United States are allergic to latex. Symptoms can include hives, runny nose and sneezing, headache, redness and teary eyes, and in some cases, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Inman’s bill was motivated by a constituent whose sister had a severe reaction to food that was prepared using latex gloves, said Trey Hines, his legislative director.

After looking at what some other states have done regarding latex gloves in food service, “Inman determined that requiring a posted notice was the best way of preventing something like this from happening in the future,” Hines said.

Meghan Swain, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, said she’s not sure how big an issue latex gloves are in Michigan.

“It’s not clear how many restaurants actually use these,” Swain said. “A lot of times they are using clear plastic or non-latex gloves.

“We knew that this bill or a version of this bill was going to come out, but I didn’t hear anything from my local health departments that this was an issue in Michigan.”

Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website says “an increasing number of consumers appear to be latex-sensitive.”

The department recognizes latex gloves as potentially harmful and advocates the use of non-latex gloves.

Other states such as Arizona, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and recently Hawaii have banned the use of latex gloves from food service processing. Lawmakers in California, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas have proposed similar legislation.

Hines said that a posted notice would inform customers while not forcing restaurants and other food service establishments to change their practices. Some food service providers consider latex gloves to be useful for slicing or chopping due to their snug fit and aid in gripping knives.

The bill is pending in the House Agriculture Committee.

Bill would allow ownership of brass knuckles, bludgeons

Capital News Service

LANSING – Metal knuckles, sand clubs and bludgeons may soon be legal to sell and own in Michigan.

A bill proposed in the House would legalize several types of weapons that have been banned since the 1930s.

The bill would get rid of a law that Reps. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, and Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township, say is outdated. It would legalize manufacturing, selling or possessing of a blackjack, slungshot, billy, metal knuckles, sand club, sandbag and bludgeon.

Johnson said it is a “gotcha” law that criminalizes those who have done nothing wrong. And Miller said it’s selectively used.

“Even some Michigan police officers no longer enforce this law,” Miller said.

The law still affects some people. In Bay City, a man was sentenced to 120 days in jail for having brass knuckles in his pocket in 2015, according to news reports.

Johnson said it can be “used as a tack-on in courts to give someone who committed a crime a longer sentence. The person should be sentenced for the crime they commited, not for owning an item.”

According to Johnson, legalizing the manufacture, sale and possession of these rare weapons is part of a criminal justice overhaul in which a key element is eliminating laws that penalize individuals for victimless crimes.

“Looking at the bill, some of the items are so old that most people couldn’t tell you exactly what they are,” Johnson said.

For example, a slungshot is defined as a strap or chain attached to a rock or piece of metal used to shift the location of where a fishing line is cast.

According to lead sponsor Miller, the list of items is so dated that what qualifies as some of the weapons is unclear – for example, what would and wouldn’t  be considered a “bludgeon” is hard to tell.

Many people are unaware of the law and own such weapons anyway, Johnson said, adding that assault with such weapons would still be illegal under the bill.

“The conversation that should be had is about gun control. The items in the bill do not do damage in the way that guns do,” Miller said.

With its potential to make more weapons available to the public, some law enforcement officials are wary of the bill.

Capt. Shawn Bride of the Muskegon Police Department said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I am a strong believer of a person’s constitutional right to bear arms and defend themselves. I do have a problem with somebody trying to hurt one of my officers with brass knuckles though,” Bride said.

Bride described the weapons as offensive tools, not defensive.

Legalization might make some collectors happy, he said, but such items shouldn’t be carried around regularly.

“My main concern is about the safety of my officers and the general public,” said Bride.

Police Chief Mark Barnett of the Ludington Police Department worries about public safety and how the weapons might be used.

“I have encountered brass knuckles on the job,” Barnett said. “If the aim of legalization is protection, there are far better ways to go about defending yourself.”  

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

Paying more for landfill might help recycling

Capital News Service

LANSING — A proposal to increase the cost of putting waste into landfills would produce an estimated $79 million annually for environmental initiatives.

The proposal was presented by Gov. Rick Snyder in late January and is pending in the House Environmental Committee.

Part of the proposal would allocate $15 million to support community recycling efforts. That would include $8 million for local recycling grants, $5 million for planning grants and $2 million for market development.

Michigan has one of the lowest recycling rates in the nation at 14 percent and throws away $368 million in reusable materials annually, according to a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) study. A recycling rate is the percentage of total waste that’s recycled rather than thrown away.

The DEQ now provides about $500,000 in grants to local recycling programs annually. Municipalities or other government agencies must match the state funding to be considered for the grant.

“Recycling grants can go to whatever makes the most sense for the community,” said Steve Sliver, the assistant director of the DEQ Waste Management Division.

“Good policy, planning dollars and grant funding are the keys to a good recycling program,” Elisa Seltzer, the director of the Emmet County Department of Public Works and Recycling, said.

Seltzer was hired to start the Emmet County recycling program in 1990. The program has received initial state aid for planning and infrastructure development, along with grants for expansion and education over the years.

“The upfront costs could mean hiring a consultant, staff person or paying committee members to work on how to increase recycling in a rural community such as ours,” Seltzer said. “We wanted recycling to be convenient, comprehensive and cost-effective.”

The county now has one of the highest recycling rates in the state at 42 percent, Seltzer said. There is currently no requirement for counties to report their recycling rates to the state, but the governor’s proposal would add that mandate.

Emmet County uses a combination of curbside pickup and community drop-off locations. The goal is that everyone has access to a recycling location within 6 miles of their home. A pay- as-you-throw policy that charges residents for dumping landfill but not recycling incentivizes making the trip, Seltzer said.

The county has a material recovery facility, which sorts and processes the recyclable materials to then be sold to manufacturers. The facility also receives material from Presque Isle, Cheboygan and Otsego counties.

“Sometimes we wind up covering the cost of the processing,” Seltzer said.

“Typically it is easier to be more cost-effective and efficient providing services in an urban environment because everything is more dense and you have more demographics with which to divide any upfront costs,” she said.

Communities attempting to expand or begin a recycling program have made more grant requests than the state has been able to fund during the past three years.

“In 2015, we had $635,000 in recycling grant funding available,” said DEQ recycling specialist Emily Freeman, “and received $3.9 million in grant requests.”

By focusing on smaller projects and working with communities to partially fund programs, the DEQ was able to help 25 entities in 2017, Freeman said. Despite those efforts, nine entities and a quarter of a million dollars in requests went unfunded.

The DEQ has has not been able to assess all grant applications for 2018, but estimates that there are $600,000 in requests.

A statewide recycling rate increase poses logistical questions for recycling programs.

Sliver said, “If Michigan actually doubled or tripled its current recycling rate, we do not have the capacity with our current material recovery facilities.

“There may be plenty of capacity in some parts of the state and none in others,” Sliver said. “Do you truck the material for a longer distance to a facility that has capacity, or does it make more sense to establish a new facility?”

Recycling in the state “employs 93,000 people, $5.7 billion in annual labor income, and creates $24.3 billion in economic input,” said Kerrin O’Brien, the executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

Proposal seeks to curb laughing gas abuse

Capital News Service

LANSING – A bill awaiting Senate action would make it harder for people under 18 to misuse potentially dangerous nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas.

Commonly known as “whip-its” — small metal containers made to refill canisters in restaurants and bakeries — they give people who inhale the nitrous oxide a short-lived euphoric high, said Scott Masi an outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery in Brighton and the founder of the nonprofit Unite to Face Addiction.

According to Masi, whip-its can be sold at liquor stores and gas stations, available to anybody who walks in the door.

Although people of all ages can get high with nitrous oxide, it’s popular among youth because they often have a hard time getting alcohol and other drugs, said Brad Uren, a co-chair of the committee on state legislation and regulations at the Michigan State Medical Society in East Lansing.

Masi said that because of its easy accessibility, whip-its are viewed as far less harmful than they actually are.

For example, Masi went through a period of his life when he struggled with drug addiction. During that time, he did whip-its, and he said there’s not enough public understanding of their dangers.

According to Masi, the high is very short-lived so many people do a lot of inhalations in a short period of time.

According to Eden Wells, the chief medical executive at the Department of Health and Human Services, there are a myriad of negative effects.

Upon inhalation, brain cells are damaged. When the nitrous oxide is released it gets extremely cold and can result in frostbite, Wells said.

The use of whip-its has been linked to anemia, convulsions and death, she said.

And according to Wells, nitrous oxide is addictive and should be treated as such.

The bill wouldn’t eliminate other ways youth get access to nitrous oxide. According to Masi, even cans of whipped cream at the grocery store contain nitrous oxide that can be used to get high.

Sponsors of the proposal include Reps. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan.

The bill covers only containers that contain only nitrous oxide. That would leave many other ways in which people can get high in the same way.

Even so Uren, Masi and Wells all said the bill would be  a step in the right direction.

Uren said it’s important that those products are no longer sold in places where they’re obviously not going to used correctly.

“When bakery owners need to buy more supplies for their business, they aren’t going to go to a liquor store,” he said.

Uren said education is another big part of reducing the improper use of  nitrous oxide.

The bill has passed the House and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Gender pay gap under the spotlight

Capital News Service

LANSING — With national Equal Pay Day coming on April 10, gender equity proponents in the Legislature are working to get Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a bill that would prevent municipalities from deciding whether local employers can request a job candidate’s wage history.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate, is sponsored by Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, would expand a current ban on local government regulation of information from job applicants.

Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, who voted against the bill, said there hasn’t been significant action taken on equal pay since the federal Equal Pay Act was signed into law 55 years ago with the purpose of abolishing wage disparity based on gender,  

Lasinski said there are two aspects of the bill she opposes: restricting the ability of communities to innovate and trying to preempt local action that may help close the gap.

The National Partnership for Women and Families’ latest report shows that in Michigan, women on average are paid 74 cents for every dollar paid to men. The group, based in Washington, D.C., said that women in Michigan lose nearly $23 billion a year due to the pay gap.

The gap is even more pronounced in ethnic groups such as black and Latina women, the report said.

“One of the things that perpetuates the pay gap is folks consistently being paid based on the salary history of their previous job versus the pay for the skills required to do the current job,” Lasinski said.

Gender pay proponents are writing letters to Snyder, urging a veto, Lasinski said.

The move to limit local governments from passing wage history ordinances comes as part of an accelerating trend from the Legislature to reduce local government autonomy.

“There has been a tightening from the state level on the ability of local governments to do what’s best for the local community,” Lasinski said.  “We have had several bills over this session that restrict local government from innovating in their own communities and from ensuring that, as local elected officials, they’re doing what’s right and best by their communities.”

For equal pay supporters and advocacy groups, Lasinski says the effort to achieve pay equity is taking place on many levels.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus in the Legislature supports a 14-bill package with items that its members say are needed to close the gap. One bill in that package would establish an award program for employers that achieve progress in equalizing pay for men and women.

The package will be highlighted on April 10 at the Equal Pay Legislative Day rally at the Capitol.

“It’s not until April 10 that women and men in Michigan receive equal pay. So essentially women have been working for free up until April 10,” Lasinski said.

Meaure seeks to prevent potato diseases

Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers with more than an acre of seed potatoes would face new requirements under a bill passed by the Senate and House: to plant only certified seed potatoes.

The intent is to reduce the possible spread of diseases that could have a major economic impact on the state’s agricultural industry, supporters say.

Michigan ranks ninth among the states in potato production with 47,000 acres planted, according to the Michigan Potato Industry Commission. The crop contributes $178 million annually to the state’s economy.

Montcalm, Mecosta, Antrim, St. Joseph and Delta counties are among the top producers in the state, said Mike Wenkel, the executive director of the commission.

In Michigan, 70 percent go into potato chips. Michigan potatoes fill one of every four bags of chips in the country, according to the National Potato Council.

Rep. Roger Victory, R- Hudsonville, the main sponsor of the bill, said Michigan is one of the only potato-producing states that doesn’t currently have a certified potato seed law.

“It is crucial that we take proactive steps to safeguard the industry’s continued success,” Victory said. “This legislation is very similar to regulations found in other potato-producing states.”

The bill is the result of many years of work and collaboration with the industry advocacy group Potato Growers of Michigan and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, he said.

Among the co-sponsors are Reps. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake; Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs; Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township; Triston Cole, R-Mancelona; and David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids.

Chris Long, a potato specialist at Michigan State University, said that virus accumulation in potato seed is detrimental to healthy crop production, and other bacterial and fungal pathogens including late blight are also of great concern.

“The bill is a good thing,” Long said. “The certified seed law would better regulate seed that is at a higher risk to the potato industry and prevent it from ever being planted.”

Wenkel said, “Michigan potato growers are also working to manage disease, insects and other pests that can damage the crop. This includes many possible impacts on the seed during the growing season and the storage of the crop.”

Wenkel said potato seed is different from most types of seed used in producing food because it’s  a piece of potato that will grow into a new plant when placed in the ground. “Since they are living tissue, they can easily harbor disease and pests from one year to the next.”

“Through seed certification, many of the diseases are monitored during seed production and provided to the buyers to assist them in managing these diseases,” he said. “Our goal in supporting this legislation is to protect our industry and our reputation for growing quality potatoes from being impacted by diseases.”

The percentage of potatoes planted now using certified seed is unknown. “Today growers can use anything as seed,” Wenkel said, “although it is believed that most seed planted is certified.”

The bill would require potato growers to plant certified potatoes and allow exemptions only  under special conditions.

It also would allow a grower to secure an annual exemption if certified seed isn’t available. “The annual exemption is a critical component of the bill to ensure that no grower would be impacted in growing a crop for a season,” Wenkel said.

Victory said that the bill also provides a special  exemption for small potatoes and for individuals who plant and distribute less than an acre of seed potatoes, such as hobby farms.

John Marker, the owner and operator of Marker Farms in Elmira grows seed potatoes.

The legislation wouldn’t have a negative impact on his farm, he said. “All the seeds my farm uses are certified.”

“The bill is more directed towards the commercial growers in the state,” Marker said. “When they are replanting potatoes, they do not go through an inspection process” and could be replanting diseased potatoes.

Marker said the proposal, if signed, would reduce the risks to the industry and to other growers who are trying to do things correctly by planting clean seed.

The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.


Push underway to designate national water trails for Flint, Shiawassee Rivers


LANSING — Three years after the Flint River starred in an international horror story where cost-cutting measures led to toxic drinking water, state lawmakers are backing an effort to give it national recognition as a water trail.

The decision is up to the National Park Service.

National Park Service designation of a national water trail means the 73-mile river will likely draw more visitors and businesses, said Rebecca Fedewa, the executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition.

Meanwhile, the Shiawassee River Water Trail Coalition has submitted a similar application for designation for that 88-mile waterway between Chesaning and Holly.

The Flint River is a principal tributary of the Shiawassee, which flows into the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

The state House has passed a resolution supporting designation for both rivers, and a resolution is pending in the Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee. The lead sponsors are Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso.

Resolutions are expressions of legislative sentiment but have no legal effect.

The Flint River “is home to bald eagles, ospreys, frogs, turtles, muskrats and a wide variety of fish. Used as a main method of transportation for Native Americans and early European settlers and later supporting the city of Flint as a major hub for fur-trading, lumber milling, and agriculture, the river has a rich cultural history,” the legislative resolution says.

The Huron River is a model for the Flint River group because it’s seen more visitors since its federal designation as a water trail in 2015, said Elizabeth Riggs, the deputy director of the Huron River Watershed Council.

“We are also seeing that they are coming from a wider variety of demographics,” she said. “Designation makes the route more of a destination.”

More people traveling to an area means more economic activity for local businesses, Riggs said.

Huron River visitors bring in $53.5 million each year, according to the Economic Impact of the Huron River.

“A national water trail designation can be used to promote recreation and tourism, enhancing economic benefits for communities. The program also opens opportunities to access technical assistance and funding for planning and implementing water trail projects and improving existing river water trails,” the resolutions say.

Water trails are like other park trails with multiple access points, mile markers and directions, but along a river, said Tom Cook, who heads Friends of the Shiawassee River.
He said Shiawassee River enthusiasts applied for national water trail status in hopes that it will create a sense of pride about that river, Cook said.

“The designation was a tool to bring our community together,” he said. “We hope that it brings the appropriate recognition of the work we have done and will continue do.”

The application process has brought together three service groups and 11 governmental organizations with responsibilities ranging from keeping the Shiawassee River clean to mapping out trail activities, Cook said.

The designations are in the final stages of review by the National Park Service, said Barbara Nelson-Jameson, who is the Michigan programs coordinator for the federal agency.

Fedewa said, “Getting the approval from the (state) House was definitely a surprise. To see them taking that on was very special and really reaffirms everything that we have been working on.”

Lizzy LaFavre writes for Great Lakes Echo.

More road money a start but not enough

Capital News Service

LANSING — Officials statewide are touting plans to increase state road funding as badly needed — although insufficient — help.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget recommendation for 2019 suggested a $175 million increase for road maintenance, and lawmakers are moving quickly in hopes of getting the money in place for the 2018 construction season.

State and county road maintenance budgets would each get a 39 percent share of the new state money with the remaining 22 percent allocated for municipalities. About $15 million of the state’s share would be used for technology updates, like hydrogen fueling stations.

This could bring relief to local governments that have seen their road conditions deteriorate through a winter of rapid weather shifts.

Cadillac has two state highways and one U.S. highway. M-115 runs through the west side of the city. M-55 used to be signed as Sunnyside Drive, a main road through the downtown area.

While M-55 has since been rerouted to follow U.S. Route 131, which runs along Cadillac’s eastern edge, Sunnyside Drive is still a state road, according to Ken Payne, the operations manager of the city’s Department of Public Works.

The conditions of these roads are “fair to bad,” with the business loop of U.S. 131 that runs through the heart of Cadillac the exception, Payne said. He said the business loop, which serves as the city’s main street, underwent major repairs as recently as 2009 and is in good shape.

Wexford County maintains M-115, while Cadillac is under a maintenance agreement with the state to take care of Sunnyside Drive and the U.S. 131 business loop.

Poor maintenance of state roads can have a negative economic and social impact on the community, Payne said.

“I don’t think anyone wants to build on a bad road,” Payne said, adding that it would deter  economic development. “Of course it also goes onto social media and Facebook — if there’s a bad spot, residents are quick to tell us.”

While local governments await a potential influx of new money, roads continue to crumble. Some officials say they worry that some governments are misusing the funding that’s already available.

An open letter from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association claims the Isabella County Road Commission’s proposal to build a new headquarters using road funding from a $1.2 billion road-funding package passed in 2015 goes against the intent of that law.

The trade association represents construction companies, including those that do road and bridge products. The letter was posted on its website.

“Anyone can go on the roads and find out that we are not investing enough money in our roads and bridges,” said association Vice President of Government Affairs Lance Binoniemi. “If you ask those lawmakers who passed that bill back in 2015, every intention that they had was to fix our roads and bridges, not to build new buildings.

“I don’t want to suggest that Isabella County doesn’t need a new building — they very well could use a new building — I just want to make sure that we’re all being very transparent with the way we’re using our money,” he said.

The commission’s current headquarters have “dangerous working conditions,” according to Isabella County Road Commission manager Tony Casali.

He listed structural damage, a lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and lead and asbestos contamination among the problems.

Low interest rates on federal funding through the federal Rural Development program — which may rise soon — make this the best opportunity the county may have to move out of its 70-year-old building, Casali said.

“They’re telling us now if that interest rate goes up a half-percent and we wait any longer, we could potentially be paying another $750,000 in interest,” Casali said. “Is our timing right? I don’t know if the timing is ever right when you do a project like this, but over 70 years, I think it’s probably time.”

The commission estimates the project will cost about $10 million, although that was a “best guesstimate” and was likely to shrink, Casali said.

While the additional $175 million in state funds would be a boost for the condition of the roads, it is not a complete solution and represents less than 15 percent of the Department of Transportation’s total spending in 2016.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted down a proposal to add another $275 million to the governor’s request.

Casali said that of the $175 million, he expects Isabella County to receive around $530,000 for the 2018 construction season.

“Based on this year, that makes up about 3 percent of my total expenditures,” Casali said when asked whether that was a significant amount. “I think I’ll let you answer that question.”

Farmers concerned about air emission reporting requirement

Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers in the state may soon be required to report air emissions from their livestock, a federal requirement that had exempted them in the past.

“It’s just a requirement for reporting for purposes of tracking,” said Laura Campbell, the manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department at the Michigan Farm Bureau. “This is a requirement with no useful purpose.”

The change is due to a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling  in Washington, D.C.

Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted farms from reporting hazardous substance air releases caused by animal waste. Only large concentrated animal feeding operations were subject to reporting under a related law.

Because the court ruling struck down the exemption, farms, ranches, livestock operations and animal operations, will be required to report releases of hazardous substances that exceed threshold limits.

According to the EPA, agriculture contributes 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Among them, methane from normal digestive processes of livestock represents almost one-third of the emissions, and manure management accounts for about 15 percent.

No one knows how many farms will fall under the requirement, Campbell said.

“The requirement depends on how much ammonia or hydrogen sulfide the manure on a farm might emit,” she said. “Confinement, pasture, all sizes of operations will have to review their farms to try to figure out whether they would estimate that their emissions meet the threshold.”

The threshold for ammonia or hydrogen sulfide from a farm is 100 lbs within a 24-hour period, according to EPA.

However, no reliable way exists to measure air emissions from any type of farm, “whether a livestock barn, manure storage structure, feedlot, pasture or any other type of (animal) housing,” Campbell said.

The EPA has recommended a few calculators that farmers can use to estimate their emissions, but she said estimates are likely to be questioned because there is no way to scientifically verify them.

According to Campbell, the Farm Bureau has been working with Michigan State University Extension, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other partners to get out information on how farms can comply.

Gary Voogt, the owner of Voogt Farms, a beef cattle farm in Marne, Ottawa County, said it will be a paperwork burden if farms have to report air emissions.

He said when farmers have to do “foolish things” that have nothing to do with raising livestock, “it passes onto the consumer, and the cost of food goes up and poor people can’t afford to eat.”

Campbell said there would be a “significant financial penalty if farmers don’t comply” with the requirement.

Beyond that, reporting would present a risk to their privacy, she said.

“Farm information submitted under most regulatory programs has some level of protection from release to the public,” Campbell said. But, under the federal Superfund law, “that information can’t be held private because the entire reason for the act is to provide that information to the public and emergency managers for response.

“Therefore, farm and farming family information would become public. There are many activist groups who want information about livestock farms specifically because they want to harass, demonize or find other ways to eliminate livestock farms,” she said.

Tom Zimnicki, the agriculture policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said it’s essential to be able to track air emissions from all major sources that contribute to pollution, whether that be agriculture, transportation or other industry.

“Our hope is that both state and federal policy recognizes the impact these livestock operations, especially the large ones, have on air quality and address air pollution issues accordingly,” he said.

“I do not think the new air emission reporting requirements will result in any new standards to limit emissions from agriculture,” Zimnicki said. “To my knowledge it is only a reporting requirement.”

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would exempt farms from reporting air emissions. Neither of Michigan’s senators, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, or Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, are co-sponsors.

Campbell said the Farm Bureau supports the proposal which is pending in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The organization says the new requirements won’t result in any benefits.

“This act has nothing to do with increasing protection of the environment,” Campbell said. “The best approach for helping farms do the best they can do for protecting air quality will come from university and Extension research under the kind of conditions that can be measured.”

That, in turn,  will allow them to make recommendations to use for state standards, she said.

According to the EPA, farms won’t be required to submit reports until the appeals court issues its order eliminating the exemptions on May 1.