Will the EPA tighten standards to clamp down on dust?

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.


Washington, July 19 - Later this month, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) will review a draft policy assessment that some say could result in unprecendented regulation of dust.


According to EPA’s Second Draft Policy Assessment for Particulate Matter (PM), issued late last week, EPA may consider regulating coarse PM at levels as low as 65-85 μg/m3, twice as stringent as the current standard.


“It would be virtually impossible for many critical U.S. industries to comply with this standard, even with use of best-management practices to control dust,” said Tamara Thies, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.


Because of the high dust levels found in arid climates, many critical western industries have a difficult time meeting the current standard of 150 μg/m3. In some of these areas, “no-till” days have already been proposed for agriculture, severely hindering farmers’ ability to maintain productive operations.


“Farmers could be fined for everyday activities like driving a tractor down a dirt road or tilling a field,” said Thies. “It would effectively bring economic growth and development to a halt in many areas of the country.”


If EPA regulates dust at the level of 65-85 μg/m3, areas across the country would be classified as “nonattainment,” forcing states to impose extreme dust-control requirements on businesses across the board.


“The current PM standard was set conservatively low based on historically flawed health studies,” Thies continued.  “EPA itself acknowledges the current standard was based on a desire to be cautious, and not on clear evidence that this very stringent level was necessary to protect against adverse public health effects. This is especially true for the type of rural dust predominantly found in agricultural and other resource-based operations.”


The policy assessment (PA) is the latest step in EPA’s ongoing review of the PM NAAQS, as required every five years under the Clean Air Act. The document will serve as the basis of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee’s (CASAC) consideration about whether to revise the current PM standard. CASAC is scheduled to discuss the document on July 26.


According to the document, “This PA is intended to “bridge the gap” between the relevant scientific evidence and technical information and the judgments required of the EPA Administrator in determining whether, and if so how, to revise the PM NAAQS. An EPA spokesperson says the document represents a number of staff conclusions, subject to modification after review by CASAC and members of the general public. “The ultimate decision will be in the hands of the administrator,” she adds. To review the PA:



 “If the EPA does indeed consider regulating coarse particulate matter at lower levels, they are, once again, putting a tremendous and unrealistic burden on rural America,” emphasized Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). “How would a farmer control the dust combining soybeans or the dust kicked up by cattle running around? I understand the EPA’s concern in protecting the health of Americans, but they have also shown a complete disregard for agriculture.”


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