By DOUG SCHMITZ
WASHINGTON, D.C. — One year after threatening to place tighter clean air standards on U.S. farmers and ranchers using rural roadways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has halted plans to impose new farm dust regulations – which several lawmakers have charged the agency with “politicizing” to appease environmental activist groups.
“Despite the EPA having taken more than a year, I’m glad ag producers finally have it in writing that an absurd agency recommendation to double down on farm dust has been rejected,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). He previously introduced legislation to permanently prevent the EPA from “regulating farm dust, giving farmers and ranchers long-term, legal certainty.”
A 2011 EPA report recommended regulating dust twice as stringently as current levels, but the agency later reversed its decision. The announcement on Dec. 18, 2012, said dust standards for farms and rural areas under the federal Clean Air Act won’t be tightened as proposed, but will instead remain the same.
On Dec. 11, 2011, the U.S. House passed House Resolution 1633, or the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, preventing the EPA from imposing stricter regulations on dust – or coarse particulate matter (PM10), which is “dust made up primarily of ground-up dirt and other naturally-occurring organic materials” – from farm-related activities.
While many farmers and ranchers welcomed the announcement, Johanns said it won’t prevent the EPA from reviewing and revising future farm dust regulations. Its review of dust is part of a five-year review of the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency doesn’t intend to tighten regulations on farm dust for at least five years. But when the agency missed the Dec. 14 deadline by when a federal court ordered it to make a decision, EPA had indicated tougher rules would be for soot – or fine particulate matter – and not for farm dust.
Andrew Walmsley, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) regulatory specialist, said the EPA’s cessation of future farm dust regulations is “a big relief for a lot of farmers and ranchers.
“There were concerns that (the EPA) might tighten standards for farm dust without a whole lot of scientific evidence,” he said. “There is not evidence that suggests that it causes harmful impacts to human health.”
If the EPA had its way, however, its regulations “could possibly make it difficult to move cattle, to plant, to plow, to do the necessary fieldwork it takes to farm and ranch today,” Walmsley said. “In areas of the country where it tends to be dusty, simply moving cattle could kick up too much dust. Driving a truck down a dry dirt road would potentially put areas out of compliance.
“Everyday farming activities would come under question,” he said, and “it would increase the cost of food. It would make it that much harder for a farmer to be competitive if these standards were tightened.”
Bob Stallman, AFBF president, said the EPA’s regulation of farm dust could have severely hampered “the ability of farmers and ranchers to meet the world’s food needs.”
While the EPA is reviewing existing regulations for particulate matter, which includes soot and dust, Stallman said “planting and harvesting crops, livestock moving from place to place and people driving down dirt roads” are just a few of the ways dust occurs naturally on farms and in rural areas.
“Increased regulation of farm dust could result in decreased productivity and higher food prices, coupled with lost jobs in the rural economy,” he said. “Moreover, the scientific basis for establishing such regulation has been called into question and it has not been demonstrated that the benefits of EPA regulation would outweigh the costs.”
According to Newsmax.com U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) co-authored the bipartisan Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 (S. 1328) with Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), along with Democratic cosponsors Reps. Leonard Boswell of Iowa and Larry Kissell of North Carolina, and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). The bill would prohibit the EPA “from burdening farmers and small business owners in rural America with additional dust regulations.”
”By putting an end to the EPA’s unnecessary dust regulations,” Hurt said, “our farmers and small businesses in rural areas across central and southside Virginia will gain the certainty and confidence necessary to focus on expanding their business and putting people back to work.”
Roberts, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he cosponsored S. 1328 to stop the EPA from “regulating dust in rural America by preventing it from imposing more stringent dust standards for one year.
“It would also allow states and localities the flexibility to address any rural dust issues before the federal government would have the authority to do so,” he said.
Roberts was pleased the EPA made the “common-sense decision to leave dust standards unchanged for rural America. It is critical to recognize that no one cares more about maintaining a clean environment than the American farmer and rancher, who know firsthand that clean air and water, and healthy soil go hand-in-hand with a healthy economy,” he said.
“Our producers deserve respect and appreciation from the EPA, not costly and redundant regulation.”