EPA announces it will not tighten farm dust regulations

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2012 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated its national clean air standards today without tightening “farm dust” standards.

"EPA's final decision today on national clean air standards will have no impact on farm dust from agricultural operations, as they have indicated for more than a year,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in response. “I commend EPA Administrator Jackson for her efforts to reach out to the agricultural community and to make it clear that EPA had no interest in regulating farm dust.”

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA is required to review its air quality standards every five years. According to EPA, a federal court required the agency to issue a final standard by December 14, because it did not meet its five-year legal deadline. In June, EPA proposed to retain the coarse particulate matter (PM-10) standard, and several farm groups submitted comments encouraging EPA to make that proposal final.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald said her organization “is relieved that EPA listened to rural America and realized that further tightening the dust standard would have disastrous effects on America's agricultural economy.”

She said if the PM standard had been tightened, “it would have been virtually impossible for current agricultural operations to demonstrate compliance, subjecting them to fines under the CAA of up to $37,500 per day” noted NCBA. 

McDonald added that NCBA will continue to fight EPA's dust standard until legislation is passed by Congress that gives cattle producers permanent relief from dust regulations.

However, National Farmers Union (NFU) Vice President of Government Relations Chandler Goule said EPA's announcement will allow the agriculture sector to “finally put this issue to rest.”

“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about supposed regulatory overreach so this final rule will hopefully put to rest any remaining anxiety regarding ‘farm dust' regulation by EPA,” he said. 

While the EPA retained the coarse PM National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) affecting farms, the agency tightened its national standards for “harmful fine particle pollution” (PM-2.5), or soot, to an annual exposure standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter instead of 15 micrograms. EPA stated that, by 2020, ninety-nine percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet revised health standard for soot. 

“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

While environmental groups praised the decision, The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), as well as other industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute, opposed the tougher soot standards. NAM CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement Friday that the agency's rules would harm economic growth. 

“This new standard will crush manufacturers' plans for growth by restricting counties' ability to issue permits for new facilities, which makes them less attractive for new business. Essentially, existing facilities will have to be shuttered for new facilities to be built in these areas,” Timmons said in a statement.

According to the EPA, health benefits of the revised standard will range from $4 billion to more than $9 billion per year, with estimated costs of implementation ranging from $53 million to $350 million.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Senior Vice President for Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs Bill Kovacs also released a statement today criticizing the EPA's new soot standard. The revised rule “imposes burdensome new requirements on states, cities, and businesses,” he said. “EPA engaged in result-oriented rulemaking to justify the most restrictive air quality standards ever issued.”

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