Farmers worried about proposed dust rule

Monday, September 19, 2011
Dust billows from this planter on a farm in Mississippi County June 1. (Laura Simon)

An air quality standard now under review by the Environmental Protection Agency is the latest in a series of regulatory attempts that could prove challenging for local farmers.

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill signed on to a bipartisan Senate bill known as the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act in an effort to stop the EPA from imposing new limits on farm dust for at least one year. Sen. Roy Blunt is also a co-sponsor of the legislation. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson has also expressed concerns about the EPA's efforts to regulate farm dust in several recent speeches while visiting Cape Girardeau.

The EPA is reviewing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for coarse particulate matter, known as PM10. Both simple dust, generated from driving on unpaved roads or plowing a field, and chemical-laden soot produced when burning fossil fuels are examples of PM10.

"It's not just the farmers that are creating dust," said Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau president Dale Steffens. "What about road construction? What about our gravel roads in the county? They create a lot of dust. You can't possibly pave every one of them."

The current PM10 daily standard is 150 micrograms per cubic meter, but according to a staff policy assessment in support of ongoing PM10 review released in April, a new standard of 85 to 65 micrograms per cubic meter is being considered.

"Farmers are less than 2 percent of the nation's population. They try to make it tougher and tougher ever year to produce the food and fiber which we so much enjoy," Steffens said.

When an area is determined to be in violation of the air quality standards for coarse particulate matter, new restrictions are placed on businesses and farms in that area, said Garrett Hawkins, director of national legislative programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.

In 2009, the EPA designated 120 counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 to 2008 monitoring data. The counties designated nonattainment are primarily in California, Arizona and Utah.

"So far, Missouri counties haven't had a problem with the current standards. Our concern is areas out west, where currently they aren't meeting the standards. What happens to the rest of rural America as you expand it?" Hawkins said.

If PM10 regulations are tightened, it will affect the way farmers are able to use their land, he said.

"The farmer is probably the best steward of the land of anybody around," Steffens said. "They're out there working it every day, all year long and will not do anything to hurt it."

In fact, Steffens said many farmers are now using no-till farming methods that keep dust to a minimum. Instead of tilling, they leave the vegetation in the field, use a chemical spray to kill it and then plant their seeds.

"EPA just needs to leave farmers alone. Do they want people in America to starve? And not enjoy the nutritious food that the farmer in America produces?" Steffens said.


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