No one truly thinks that dust kicked up when a field is combined poses a threat to the air we breathe. Nor does anyone truly believe dust trailing a truck on a dirt road threatens the environment. Yet recently, many farmers and ranchers have been troubled by reports that EPA is seeking to overreach its authority by regulating naturally-occurring farm dust. To clear up the confusion, I've asked EPA to confirm their intentions in plain English when it comes to regulating farm dust. Their mixed responses have caused only more confusion – leaving in question whether farm dust will soon be subject to increased federal scrutiny and regulation. I've introduced a bill in the Senate to establish absolute clarity in the law for farmers and ranchers.
Here's where the problem lies: Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA is developing plans to increase regulation on what it calls "particulate matter" – particles in the air that may be harmful to us and our environment. The definition for this matter is so broad that it includes everything from smog to everyday farm dust. In April, the agency released a report with a recommendation to double the stringency of its standards for particulate matter. The decision has not yet been finalized, but the report certainly establishes that there is serious consideration within EPA to increase regulation on particulate matter, including dust on farms, ranches, and throughout rural America.
Of course we should make an effort to keep smog out of the air we breathe. Yet it is nonsensical to include farm dust in the same category as such harmful particles. In fact, EPA has studied farm dust specifically, and did not conclude that it had any adverse impact on the environment or public health. Yet in an effort to target particles proven harmful to the air, EPA is also unnecessarily creating uncertainty for ag producers.
In February, I wrote EPA asking the agency to remove ag producers and farm dust from consideration when implementing this regulation. In a response from Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, I was told EPA is "not focused on any specific category of sources or any particular activity (including activities relating to agriculture or rural roads)." In other words, EPA wants to regulate all particles in the air, and is turning a blind eye as to whether those particles come from a smokestack or a rural road. That's a far cry from contending that farm dust regulation is a myth.
In what has become a harmful narrative, there's a considerable amount of uncertainty coming from EPA. Administrator Jackson says farm dust regulation is a myth, while the top official for air quality says EPA doesn't even distinguish between types of particles – whether smog or dust. This is where my bill comes in: to separate farm dust from harmful particulate matter and in turn give absolute clarity to the law and much-needed certainty to farmers and ranchers. Once it passes, EPA must consider the source of particulate matter, and will be prohibited by law from extending its regulatory reach into farmers' fields and onto dirt roads.
I brought this legislation to the Senate floor earlier this month, only to have it blocked by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev). This is a bill with growing bipartisan support – it has 26 co-sponsors, including 2 Democrats. It does nothing to prevent EPA from doing its job to protect our air; it simply provides specific guidance on farm dust and gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to continue to do their part in feeding the world. It's my every hope and expectation that Senator Reid will soon see the common sense wisdom in this legislation and allow it to be brought to a vote.
Source: Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)