Producers reassured with proposed dust standards

Jun 22, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 15 proposed its long awaited dust standard that sparked controversy within the agricultural community. The controversy arose when EPA staff announced the administrator would be “justified” in doubling the stringency of the current so-called dust standard, officially known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for coarse particulate matter.

But National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) welcomed news from EPA that it plans to retain the current standard. Despite the good news, the issue involving farm dust is far from over, according to NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald.

“We learned from the last two reviews of this standard that a

final standard can look very different than the proposal. It is important to note that EPA’s action is simply a proposal from the agency and not the final standard,” said McDonald.

The final standard is scheduled to be released by EPA in December of this year. McDonald said NCBA encourages EPA to stick with the proposed standard and not lower the final standard. She said lowering the standard would throw a large section of the country into nonattainment.

McDonald said cattlemen are really in search of certainty when it comes to rules and regulations being promulgated by EPA and other agencies. This is why NCBA fully supports the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns,

R-NE, and Congresswoman Kristi Noem, R-SD. The legislation would provide permanent relief and regulatory certainty by exempting the agricultural community from EPA dust regulations. The legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but the Senate version (S. 1528) has not been brought up for a vote.

“The fact is, farmers and ranchers want and need certainty about this issue. Regulatory uncertainty is unnecessary and unproductive,” said McDonald. “If EPA follows through and does not revise the dust standard, such an action would only provide us with certainty for five years and provides no relief to those producers who are spending more than $1,000 per day on dust control measures right now.”

NCBA supports EPA’s plan to retain the current standard, but will continue working with Congress to move towards a more permanent solution.

While ag groups may be breathing a sigh of relief, other industries are preparing their arguments on changes in standards.

EPA proposed tougher pollution standards for soot, a step that supporters said will protect public health but industry groups say could cripple economic growth.

The annual standards for particulate matter, or microscopic particles released from automobile exhausts, power plants or factories, would be set from 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter under the proposed rule. The current standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

“To protect public health, we have to strengthen the annual standard for fine particles,” Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, said. “Particulate matter is a serious pollutant.”

The agency said it would collect comment from the public as well as stakeholders to “determine the appropriate final standard.”

McCarthy said the new rule could be delayed until 2020.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Paul Cort, a staff attorney at San Francisco-based Earthjustice, which was among the environmental groups seeking a lower soot standard.

Republicans had encouraged the administration to maintain the current standard.

“Any change to these regulatory standards could result in significant adverse economic consequences and job losses,” Republican Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, chairman of the panel’s energy and power subcommittee, said in a statement.

According to EPA, 99 percent of U.S. counties meet the proposed standard without any additional action. But some, such as San Bernardino and Riverside counties in southern California, won’t meet the 13 micrograms standard by 2020, and four additional counties, in Alabama, Arizona, Michigan and Montana, won’t meet the lower 12 microgram standard, according to projections from EPA.

The highly charged political debate has split party lines, and been on the delay list for the Obama administration, in the hopes that it could wait until after the coming election. But a federal judge ordered officials to act after 11 states filed a lawsuit seeking a decision this year by the EPA. —

Traci Eatherton,