Farmers & Ranchers to EPA: Eat My Dust

by Jackie Moreau on October 27, 2011

in Blog, Features

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The environmentalist movement continually touts itself as the well-meaning shepherd of America’s public health.  It seems to me, however, that their cause consistently runs counter to our country’s economic health, which is deserving of some much-needed TLC.  This week the Energy and Commerce Committee surveyed Rep. Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 1633), which aims to provide farmers and ranchers some protection from economic uncertainty due to overregulation by the US EPA.

In short, this bill bans EPA from revising the current National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for large particulate matter (PM) for one year, and prevents the agency from regulating rural nuisance dust (“farm dust”) unless it proves to have significantly adverse health effects, of which there is currently no evidence.  When Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asked EPA Assistant Administrator for Air Quality Regina McCarthy why the EPA has not changed the coarse PM standard if they feel it has adverse effects, she answered that there is scientific uncertainty.

This bill was met with criticism by a select few, who dub the bill as unnecessary and altogether illegitimate since there are currently no plans to regulate farm dust.  In McCarthy’s opening statement, she underscored the fact that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said she has no intention of regulating farm dust.  Even though McCarthy admitted that there is not enough scientific evidence showing adverse effects of farm dust, she emphasized that the broad language of the bill has potential to roll back Clean Air Act regulations.  In agreement with McCarthy, Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) also accused the bill’s language of being wide-ranging, dismissing farm dust regulation as a “phantom issue”: “This isn’t just nonsense, it’s pure fantasy”.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) went so far as to equate farm dust with “fairy dust”.  Though the EPA claims to have no intention of regulating farm dust, were they to tighten the NAAQS, they could surely change their mind on the regulation.  Noem’s bill would prevent this from happening.  The fact that the economic livelihood of rural people is being reduced to an “imaginary” issue by their legislators is exactly why this preemptive bill should be taken seriously.

In reality, the real fantasy is the EPA’s word as bond.  Steve Foglesong, ranch owner and past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, pointed to EPA’s track record of oscillating between their next course of regulation: “[I]n 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 keeps the present dust standard, the opportunity exists for EPA to narrow it in the future.”  This bill provides farmers and ranchers the ability to plan for the long-term, which is paramount to their economic welfare.

Regardless of what Lisa Jackson “promises”, outside groups and industries file lawsuits and courts frequently determine law.  Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) voiced, “We’re only one lawsuit away from EPA being forced to regulate dust on roads and farming activities”.  Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) disclosed that there are over 400 pending lawsuits with EPA currently.

These prospective court rulings mandating regulations often result in a stunting of economic productivity and the loss of jobs. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) stated, “These people (farmers and ranchers) are trying to hire others and are worried about what’s coming down the pipe from EPA”.  Many farmers and ranchers are still struggling to survive with the current coarse particulate matter (PM) standards.  Farmers like Kevin Rogers, a fourth generation farmer who works over 7,000 acres of land in Arizona, shared his everyday challenge with the current regulations:

“My farm in Arizona lies in one of the worst areas for dust in the nation.  Within the past couple of months, four huge, naturally-occurring dust clouds have risen from the desert and swept over the Phoenix and Tucson areas…this is the “dust” that EPA regulates under the NAAQS… The area where I farm near Phoenix has one of the highest coarse PM levels in the United States, a distinction that we share with the San Joaquin Valley in southern California.  It is arid and windy, similar to many other rural areas in the West, Southwest and Plains.  The area where I farm cannot even meet the current coarse PM standard, and we have been in serious nonattainment for several years.”

Rogers shudders at the idea of his farming operations becoming even more regulated.  He states, “I can tell you that if I am required to park my tractor on windy days or when soil moisture is insufficient it will cost me time and money in lost labor and productivity.  If I or my employees are limited to driving 15 miles per hour on county roads, it will greatly increase the time we must spend on these roads, taking time away from engaging in other more productive activities.”

These are the economic consequences rural America will face in the all-too-likely casting of more regulations.  The EPA’s policy of placing the environment over the economic welfare of America’s backbone of farmers and ranchers only adds to the already stressed economic climate.

karen October 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

One more example of the federal government’s efforts to drive rural people off their land. Well done.

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