Farm dust regulation prevention act called unnecessary

Dec 9, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received a clear signal last week from the U.S. House of Representatives that placing burdensome and scientifically unfounded regulations on U.S. farmers and ranchers is unacceptable. In a bipartisan showing, the House voted 268-150 in favor of Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 1633).

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald called the vote a win for regulatory certainty for cattlemen and women.

“Unfortunately, taking EPA’s word that farm dust will not be further regulated provides absolutely no relief to those cattle producers already faced with dust regulations. We saw legislation as the only option to give all ranchers across the country any sort of peace of mind,” said Donald, who is a rancher from Melville, MT.

Donald said the fact EPA was even considering regulating dust at levels that would push much of the country into non-compliance was reason enough to move forward with H.R. 1633. NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon said the legislation recognizes that dust from agricultural activities has never been shown to have an adverse health impact at ambient levels. H.R. 1633 first gives states and localities the authority in regulating dust by preventing the federal standard from applying where states or localities already have dust measures in place.

In places where there is no state or local control, the bill also would exempt farm dust from the Clean Air Act (CAA) unless the EPA administrator can prove it is a significant health problem and that applying the standard is worth the costs.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where it was introduced by Sens. Mike Johanns, (R-NE) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) and has support from 26 bipartisan senators. But prior to the vote, a press release from the White House Office of Communications, said the bill would create serious problems with the CAA.

According to their release, the bill goes far beyond its stated intent of prohibiting EPA from tightening na tional standards for coarse particles.

“This ambiguously written bill would create high levels of regulatory uncertainty regarding emission control requirements that have been in place for years. Specifically, the bill’s exclusion from the entire CAA of a new class of air pollutants called ‘nuisance dust’ (an imprecise and scientificallyundefined term) could be used to roll back existing public health protection limiting pollution from mining operations, industrial activities, and possibly other sources,” the release stated.

According to the release, the bill raises issues about whether EPA could continue to implement the existing health-based fine and coarse particle programs.

According to the release, if H.R. 1633 were presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

H.R. 1633 has been considered bipartisan legislation that gives farmers and ranchers certainty that they will be exempt from excessive regulation of dust.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says the bill provides for a one-year moratorium on EPA from adding any additional dust regulations on production agriculture and rural America.

Under current standards, EPA has the ability to tighten regulatory standards for dust under the CAA. Should this happen, farmers, ranchers and rural economies could be devastated.

Though EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told members of Congress last month that the agency has no intention to regulate farm dust, some Congress members wanted more assurance.

The bill 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.”

The current particulate matter (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 already required to take actions to reduce dust from their operations.

At a hearing hosted by Chairman Ed Whitfield, R- KY, of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, NCBA’s Steve Foglesong, immediate past president of the organization and a rancher from Astoria, IL, testified that ranchers are pleased EPA has decided not to propose to lower the standard for coarse PM (dust) this year but he added that the issue was far from resolved.

He said EPA does not have a consistent track record of doing what it proposes. In fact, in 1996, EPA proposed to remove the dust standard altogether, only to bring it back in the final rule. In 2006, EPA proposed to exempt farm dust. That exemption also disappeared in the final rule. Foglesong said even if EPA retains the current dust standard, the opportunity remains for the agency to tighten it in the future. Unless Congress passes the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, he said that threat remains. Whitfield said family farmers and ranchers need flexible, science-based regulations, rather than an EPA guessing game.

“EPA’s unprecedented wave of stringent and inflexible regulations pose a serious threat to the economy,” said Whitfield. “Now, this overly aggressive EPA has discussed focusing their efforts on family farms under the guise of revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter. With record high unemployment and deficits, it is beyond understanding as to why EPA would even think about regulating farm dust.”

Foglesong testified that the regulation of dust under CAA is supposed to be based on a finding by scientists of adverse health effects. Historically, he said there has been no evidence of adverse health effects from farm dust at ambient levels. But EPA has decided to regulate it anyway. In 2006, EPA based its decision on the precautionary principle.

“That’s right, EPA’s dust regulation is not based on science but on caution,” said Foglesong.

“The fact is, farmers and ranchers want and need certainty about this issue.

Regulatory uncertainty is unnecessary and unproductive,” said Foglesong.

Donald said, “The Senate will be a challenge. However, we are confident if agriculture continues to work together, we can expect this legislation to end up on the president’s desk.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor