AIR POLLUTION:

Bipartisan House coalition tells EPA to lay off farm dust

Saying that stricter dust standards would impose an economic burden on rural areas nationwide, 75 House members today urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson not to move forward with tougher air quality rules next year.

The letter, which was circulated by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), was signed mainly by representatives of farm-heavy districts and includes 13 Democrats and 62 Republicans. They are worried about a potential tightening of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for coarse particulate matter, which have included a daily limit of 150 micrograms per cubic meter since 1987.

A draft policy assessment that was released by EPA scientists in July said the agency would be justified regardless of whether it chooses to tighten the standard. The decision will come down to a "public health policy judgment" by Jackson, the assessment says.

"The current standards have been very difficult and expensive for industries in the Western part of the country to attain, including agricultural and other resource-based industries," today's letter says. "The possibility of those same industries having to meet a standard that is twice as stringent causes us great concern, especially when a revision is not required by science."

The Lummis letter, which is similar to a July note from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), comes at a time of increasing pressure on EPA's agricultural regulations. During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week, Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and a handful of Republican senators slammed Jackson on air, water and pesticide rules that could impose new costs on American farmers.

Several senators at the hearing urged Jackson not to move forward with a stricter dust standard. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who also signed Grassley's letter, said he often hears from farmers who feel that EPA does not understand their work.

"There's a feeling out in the country that you walked in, the president walked in, and every idea for more regulation was dusted off and cut loose and agriculture is under attack," Johanns said. "That's how people feel" (E&E Daily, Sept. 24).

Jackson responded by saying that she has not made a decision on the dust standard. The agency is scheduled to issue a proposal next year, but critics are sounding the alarms early.

"The Obama EPA's unprecedented attempts to regulate dust on farms and ranches is just another example of how out-of-touch this administration is," Lummis said in a statement today. "Clear evidence acknowledges that the dust standard revision is unnecessary."

"This unreasonable requirement will cause extreme hardship to farmers, livestock producers and other resource-based industries throughout rural America. People in the West and those in dry climates will be hit especially hard. It's time the EPA rethink the consequences the farm dust regulation will have on the people who feed us."

Click here to read the letter.

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