Monday, October 17, 2011

Dust in the Wind: The EPA's Regulation of Farm Dust

This past year there has been much speculation about whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will regulate "dust" blowing off of America's farms and farm fields.  The controversy originated with the conclusion of the EPA's five year review study of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which suggested that the threshold for regulation of coarse particulate matter (PM-10) be reduced from the current 150 μg/m3 to 65-85 μg/m3.  While making a farmland tour earlier this spring, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson attempted to debunk speculation about whether such findings in the NAAQS would result in more stringent air regulations on farms, calling these suggestions "not true."    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also got in on the controversy, calling the speculation that the EPA would regulate farm dust a "myth."

But that was not the end of the matter since the EPA had not made a final decision as to whether PM regulations would be increased.  The issue surfaced again in various GOP presidential debates and culminated in H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, a bi-partisan bill that seeks to exempt so-called "nuisance dust" from the EPA's regulation under the Clean Air Act.

Today the EPA weighed in again on this issue.  Mary Clare Jalonick at the Associated Press reports:
The EPA is trying to put to rest what it calls a "myth" that it is going to crack down on farm dust.  In letters to two senators last week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency won't expand its current air quality standards to include dust created by agriculture.

Republicans and some farm-state Democrats have used the issue on the campaign trail, arguing that the EPA is set to penalize farmers for everyday activities. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said in a recent debate that the agency is "out of control" and was preparing to regulate dust.

Republicans in Congress have used the hypothetical dust rule as an argument against government regulations they say could eliminate jobs. Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, have pushed legislation that would block the rule if it had been proposed.

Obama administration officials have tried to deflect talk of a dust rule for months, to little avail. A statement released by the agency Monday 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."

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said there has been considerable anxiety in farm country about the possibility of increased regulation on agriculture.

"We hope this action finally puts to rest the misinformation regarding dust regulation and eases the minds of farmers and ranchers across the country," Johnson said.

Noem issued a statement saying that the announcement does nothing to change the fact that the agency has the ability to regulate farm dust. But Johanns called the EPA statement a "victory," saying he would abandon an amendment on the issue he planned to offer to a spending bill this week.

"EPA has finally provided what I've been asking for all along," Johanns said. "Unequivocal assurance that it won't attempt to regulate farm dust."
Will these be the end of the matter?  Stay tuned.

By Todd J. Janzen

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