Bill provides certainty to rural America
Though Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson told members of Congress that the agency has no intention to regulate farm dust, some lawmakers and their rural constituents aren’t convinced.
Although there is some regulation of agricultural dust, Congress wants to ensure that no more regulations are enacted.
Farmers and ranchers told members of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Energy and Power last week that some farmers already face limits on their operations because of dust regulations.
The committee started a debate on the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, designed to define the difference between farm dust and dust from power plants and other industrial operations, and to leave any dust regulation to states and local governments.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD, has 112 co-sponsors and makes an attempt to define what it calls “nuisance dust” that is subject to regulation at the state and local levels. EPA would have authority to regulate nuisance dust only if local governments are unable to do so effectively.
The bill defines nuisance dust as that “generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, or other activities typically conducted in rural areas; or consisting primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, windblown dust, or some combination thereof.”
Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for air and radiation at EPA, said the definition is “broad” and would legally preclude EPA from enforcing particulate matter (PM) standards on polluters in rural areas, including power plants, ethanol plants and other industrial operators.
The current PM standard was put in place by the Reagan administration in 1987.
There are 41 counties in nonattainment areas, primarily in California and Arizona, where many farmers and ranchers are required to take actions to reduce dust from their operations.
“We do not believe there is any evidence that farming has been significantly affected by any air standard,” McCarthy said.
Noem said she and her constituents are concerned that they, too, may at some point have to comply with dust regulations.
“In my home state of South Dakota, this is a huge concern for farmers, ranchers, and small business owners who are struggling to stay afloat in an already stressed economy,” Noem said. “One of the most overwhelming concerns I hear about from farmers and ranchers back home is the overbearing regulations coming out of the EPA, including the regulation of farm dust. Their concern is not unwarranted.”
Rural, urban differences
The differences between the urban and rural view of regulating farm dust perhaps may be best illustrated by the comments of Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA.
He compared the so-called “myth” of regulating farm dust with an internet fraud recently perpetrated that claimed there was a proposed 5-cent tax on all emails sent in the U.S. That “hoax,” Markey said, led to real proposed legislation to prevent such an action, making light of the proposed act as something akin to “fairy dust.”
In contrast, farmers and ranchers told the committee how current particulate matter rules affect their farms.
Steve Foglesong, a ranch owner of Black Gold Cattle Company in Illinois, speaking on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said current standards already are having an effect on agriculture—cattle producers specifically.
Cattle producers currently abiding by PM standards have incurred individual costs of up to $400,000 in a single year to take measures to reduce dust.
“Should EPA lower the standard, much of the Midwest, West and Southwest would move into nonattainment or to the brink of nonattainment, which would put many more cattlemen and women across the country in the position of being forced to bear similar costs or go out of business,” he said.
“Cattle producers have been fighting this issue for many years, and hope that this committee and this Congress can bring permanent relief from this standard by passing HR1633.”
Kevin Rogers, a farmer from Maricopa County, Arizona, speaking on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers in his county have to select among a menu of options to reduce dust, including parking farm equipment on windy days, watering dirt roads and many other steps. In that county, he said, agriculture has been determined by EPA modeling to be responsible for about 3 percent of PM pollution.
Those steps taken have been costly to farmers, he said. “We are unaware of any general economic studies on the impacts of such restrictions,” Rogers said. “However, I can tell you that if I am required to park my tractor on windy days or when soil moisture is insufficient, it will cost me time and money in lost labor and productivity. If I or my employees are limited to driving 15 miles per hour on county roads, it will greatly increase the time we must spend on these roads, taking time away from engaging in other more productive activities.”
Stripping EPA authority
John Walke, senior attorney and director of the clean air program with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said the bill would turn back the clock on the Clean Air Act.
“H.R. 1633 attempts to block EPA from setting health-based standards for this pollution in the future,” he said. “The bill fundamentally rewrites the Clean Air Act to interfere with EPA’s study of the science of coarse particle pollution, introduces a vague and expansive definition of nuisance dust that would exempt much dangerous PM2.5 and PM10 industrial pollution across large swaths of the United
States, and make it more difficult for states to meet air quality standards.
“This bill is sweepingly over-inclusive, creates unintended consequences, and increases harmful air pollution and health hazards for the American people.”
On several occasions throughout the hearing committee, members raised concern that though EPA is not changing PM rules at this time, that at some point, environmental groups will force the agency’s hand.
In many instances, environmental and other groups sue EPA, reach settlements and essentially force the agency to implement regulations in a certain manner.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL, asked Walke whether NRDC would consider legal action if the bill becomes law.
Walke said he would not discuss potential litigation.
“In contrast to imaginary problems or imaginary lawsuits, no one is bringing up the fact that this bill would affect 80 percent of America” by stripping EPA of its authority to regulate PM in most cases, he said. — Todd Neeley, DTN