Subcommittee Examines Legislation to Settle Farm Dust Uncertainty

October 25, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), held a hearing to discuss legislation to provide much-needed regulatory certainty to rural America. H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, will prevent EPA from changing its current standard for coarse particulate matter, commonly referred to as dust, for one year from enactment. The bill also provides flexibility for state, local, or tribal regulation of "nuisance dust," generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, and other activities typically conducted in rural areas.

This bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by over 100 Republicans and Democrats. Two of the bill's primary sponsors, Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Robert Hurt (R-VA), testified about the need for their legislation to provide immediate relief to America's farmers and ranchers.

"My bill is a bipartisan approach to ending the EPA's regulation of farm dust in rural America, while still maintaining the protections of the Clean Air Act to the public's health and welfare," said Noem. "One of the most overwhelming concerns I hear about from farmers and ranchers back home is the overbearing regulations coming out of EPA, including the regulation of farm dust. Their concern is not unwarranted. We need to put an end to regulation of farm dust and prevent its expansion in the future. Regulation of farm dust is a problem today and will only cause more of an issue as the EPA continues to have opportunities to make more stringent standards in the future."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently announced plans to propose retaining the current standard for coarse particulate matter, but the agricultural community remains concerned that the standard could change during the rulemaking process or as a result of future court challenges. In addition, witnesses noted that without legislation, EPA would retain the authority to modify the standard and increase the costs and burdens of farm dust regulation in the future.

Review of the coarse particulate matter standard is currently on the agency's regulatory agenda, and earlier this year, an internal EPA review of the issue produced conflicting recommendations on a path forward. One recommendation was to consider tightening the standard despite the lack of a clear scientific basis for doing so. Due to these concerns, over 125 stakeholder groups have voiced support for the legislation and regulatory certainty it would provide. Witnesses testified to the continued uncertainty still haunting rural America.

Steve Foglesong, a cattle rancher from Illinois testifying on behalf of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, explained that cattle operations "make dust a part of every day life." He went on to note, "The idea that the EPA may decide to require me, and other cattle producers in every part of the country, to somehow control that dust makes me lose sleep at night. It would be ridiculous! ... While I, and other ranchers across the U.S., are pleased the EPA has decided not to propose to lower the standard this year, we can't be 100% sure of the outcome of the rulemaking until it is final."

Stakeholders gave real-life examples of how farm dust regulation can impact productivity and job creation on America's farms, ranches, and rural businesses. Due to naturally occurring dust, areas in Arizona have been in non-attainment of EPA's coarse particulate matter standard for decades. To help bring these areas into compliance, the state developed best management practices (BMP) to regulate farming activities, which have proved burdensome and extremely costly.

"In 2009, one cattle operation located in dust nonattainment area in Arizona spent $400,000 to comply with the current standard. That's over 1,000 per day just to reduce dust. Most of the cost is associated with sprinkling water on cattle pens. And, that is just the current standard; just think about how much it would cost if the EPA were to lower the standard in the future? If that happens, the simple fact is that many farms and ranches may be forced out of business," said Foglesong.

Kevin Rogers, President of the Arizona Farm Bureau, described what these regulations look like in practice on the farm, stating, "BMPs include practices such as: tillage based on soil moisture, not working in fields in windy conditions, modifying equipment to prevent PM generation, speed limits on unpaved roads, planting windbreaks and permanent cover crops, to name a few." Rogers went on to explain that, "All these activities have economic consequences attached to them and place restrictions on farming operationsI 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 the time away from engaging in other more productive activities."

"The last thing our struggling economy needs is new costs and regulatory burdens on farmers and small business in rural America. They already face indirect consequences from EPA's costly regulatory agenda, and now they are rightfully concerned about the threat of direct regulation on their operations," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). "This is a common-sense approach that protects the interests of our vital rural economy, and I commend our colleagues for putting their ideas on the table. If EPA is series that it does not intend to regulate farm dust, it should embrace this legislation."