Dust regulations being called a myth

Oct 24, 2011
by WLJ

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent letter to two senators stating the agency has no plans for expanding the current air quality standards to include agriculture dust is giving the ag industry hope that maybe the EPA regulation rampage is slowing down.

EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to review air quality standards, like those for farm dust, every five years. As part of the review, EPA staff was recommending tightening the standards, setting off a wave of concern in the ag community that new regulations were on the way.

While the actual words “farm dust” were nowhere in EPA’s Clean Air Act of 1970, the act does regulate air pollutants, including “coarse particulate matter.” The act requires that those particulates be monitored and regulated all across the U.S., including farms. Raising the levels had the potential to make driving down a dusty dirt road illegal.

But, along with the great news that EPA is dropping the new restriction possibilities, talk of farm ers and ranchers “crying wolf” over the farm dust regulations are running rampant.

“Some misleading agitators have proclaimed that EPA is planning to focus on regulating dust from farm fields or gravel roads,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress in March. “Simply put, there is no truth to that allegation.”

In last week’s letter, Jackson said the agency has no plans to expand the current air quality standards to include agriculture dust. A statement released by the agency said that “EPA hopes that this action finally puts an end to the myth that the agency is planning to expand regulations of farm dust.”

But in 2006, EPA determined larger particles in the air than previously thought were a danger to the public. The increased threshold covered air mixes that occur in rural areas.

EPA’s spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said the changes would serve the public’s well-being and, regardless of whether someone lived in a rural or urban area, the threshold for unsafe levels of dust in the air must remain consistent nationally.
In 2009, American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council petitioned the government to provide an exemption to farmers from the EPA particulate matter standards. They argued that evidence of harm caused by dust in rural areas hadn’t been determined.
But the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that EPA had provided the evidence necessary to determine farm dust “likely is not safe.”
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the regulations had the potential of becoming twice as stringent as the current standard.
NCBA and the Public Lands Council welcomed the news in a joint release, but said they aren’t ready to take EPA’s announcement for granted.
“This is refreshing news. The consequences of EPA regulating farm dust at levels twice as stringent as the current standard would have undoubtedly forced many farmers and ranchers into nonattainment, which would have resulted in enormous fines and would have jeopardized the future of many farms and ranches,” said NCBA President Bill Donald. “While we are pleased with Administrator Jackson’s decision to lean on common sense and science, this issue is far from resolved.”
The groups plan to continue to support the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, proposed by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD, and Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE. The legislation would exempt farmers and ranchers from the federal regulation of dust as long as it is regulated at the state or local levels.
In addition to changing the air quality standards, EPA was set to implement tough new regulations relating to the ozone. President Obama has decided to shelve the potential new standards for the time being, ignoring the advice of EPA’s Jackson.
“… after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time. Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013,” Obama said in a White House release.
EPA’s agenda at the beginning of 2011 was predicted to change America, with the biggest change to come out of American’s pocketbooks. The Heritage Foundation estimated that the imposed regulations could cost families as much as $3,000 per year. With new rules governing mercury emissions, mining wastes, vehicle emissions, climate change, fuel efficiency and more, EPA has been on a mandate mission, but maybe they have reached a turning point. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor