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Agriculture Today

Dust will fly as rural America watches congressional outcome

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Wilson County News
December 28, 2011 | 2,881 views | Post a comment

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing air quality standards under the Clean Air Act, and rural America is closely watching. Why the concern? Particulate matter, or dust, is considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

In a July 13, 2010, press release, Tamara Thies, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association chief environmental counsel, addressed an EPA Second Draft Policy Assessment for Particulate Matter, which would have decreased the current standard of allowable “dust” by half. If the proposal would have passed:

•“No-till” days would be proposed, “severely hindering farmers’ ability to maintain productive operations.”

•“Farmers could be fined ... for driving a tractor down a road or tilling a field.”

•If an area hits “nonattainment,” states would be forced “to impose extreme dust-control requirements on business across the board.”

Bill introduced

One way to protect rural America from more environmental regulations is the passage of HR 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Act of 2011. The bill has received support from more than 185 organizations nationwide.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, in a Dec. 6 American Farm Bureau Federation press release, urged the members of Congress to support HR 1633, “Naturally occurring dust is a fact of life in rural areas. ... [Dust] is raised by such normal activities as driving on unpaved roads and is composed of soil and organic material. The amount of dust in the air depends on wind and rainfall, two conditions that EPA cannot regulate,” Stallman said. “Legislation is the best way to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and rural America that their activities will not be unduly regulated by conditions beyond their control and for substances for which adverse health effects cannot be truly established.” Members of the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill Dec. 8, 268-150. If it becomes law, the EPA cannot change the present standard for one year. The Senate has its own version of this bill included in S 1720, the Jobs through Growth Act.


While the ag sector supports the passage of the House bill, President Obama’s senior advisors have recommended that the president veto the bill.

In a Dec. 7 Statement of Administration Policy linked to “The Hill E2Wire, The Hill’s Energy & Environmental Blog,” advisors explain this stance:

“The Administration strongly opposes HR 1633. As drafted, this bill would create serious problems for implementing Clean Air Act (CAA) public health protections that have been in place for years. ...

“Specifically, the bill’s exclusion from the CAA of a new class or air pollutants called ‘nuisance dust’ (an imprecise and limited pollution from mining operations, industrial activities, and possible other sources). ...

“Further, this bill is unnecessary, as it purports to address a problem that does not exist. Responding to false claims that EPA intended to tighten regulation of coarse particles, EPA has repeatedly explained that it plans to retain the existing coarse particulate standard, which originally went into effect in 1987 and remains adequately protective of public health.”

Déjà vu

More than 185 rural and ag organizations have united and voiced support for HR 1633. See “Groups in support of HR 1633” (right) for more.

In a Nov. 22 letter to Chairman Fred Upton and Ranking Member Henry Waxman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, the groups explained why they have unified.

“The announcement does not provide the certainty that rural America needs,” the letter states. “First, it is common for the agency to finalize a rule that is different from the proposed rule. In fact, in 1996 EPA proposed to remove the PM10 24-hour standard altogether, only to bring it back in the final rule. And in 2006, EPA proposed to exempt agriculture dust, but that exemption also disappeared in the final rule. Second, under the Clean Air Act, EPA must review this standard every five years. That means we could face the same challenges again in just five short years.”

Mark Barnett, publications director for the Texas Farm Bureau, addressed this issue in his Nov. 14 blog, “What’s the fuss over dust?”

“An environmental advocacy group called WildEarth Guardians petitioned EPA in late October in an attempt to force the agency to come down harder on controlling dust in parts” of eight states, Barnett wrote.

Barnett, using data from a DTN/The Progressive Farmer story, stated this action would involve “13,700 farms and 7.6 million acres of farmland.”

Barnett continued, “ ... WildEarth Guardians spokesperson said they would consider suing EPA if the environmental agency doesn’t take action.

“In a nutshell, HR 1633 ... would limit federal regulations of nuisance dust that is regulated by state and local law. The legislation would put the brakes on EPA should they want to revisit the issue. It could brush off the potential from mischief from environmental groups like the WildEarth Guardians.

“HR 1633 offers hope that this agricultural dust issue can be settled once and for all,” Barnett wrote.

So as 2011 comes to a close, dust will continue to fly. But the question remains: Will stricter regulations be placed by the EPA, and when?

What is nuisance dust?
Nuisance dust is described as “particulate matter” that

•“is generated primarily from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, or other activities typically conducted in rural areas

•consists primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, or some combination thereof

•is not emitted directly into the ambient air combustion, such as exhaust from combustion engines and emissions from stationary combustion processes

•is not comprised of residuals from the combustion of coal

•does not include radioactive particulate matter produced from uranium mining or processing.”

Source: HR 1633 Bill Text, 112Congress; Thomas Library of Congress website

Groups in support of HR 1633

Among the 185 groups which signed the Nov. 22 letter to the House Energy & Commerce Committee in support of HR 1633, “Farm Dust Regulation Act of 2011,” include:

•American Farm Bureau and their 51 state affiliates

•Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas

•National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

•National Grain and Feed Association

•Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council

•Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

•Texas Association of Dairymen

•Texas Cattle Feeders Association

•Texas Pork Producers Association

•The Fertilizer Institute

•U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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