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Az farmer says federal dust regulations aren't needed
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Az farmer says federal dust regulations aren't needed

Arizona Farm Bureau president: Clean Air rules cost growers, state

  • Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers urged Congress this week to pass a bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating 'farm dust.' Critics say the bill is not needed because the EPA has no intention of enacting such regulations.
    Cassondra Strande/Cronkite News ServiceArizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers urged Congress this week to pass a bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating 'farm dust.' Critics say the bill is not needed because the EPA has no intention of enacting such regulations.

WASHINGTON — The dust storms that sweep through Arizona can translate into a lot of problems. For Kevin Rogers, they can translate 75 pages of paperwork.

That’s what the Arizona Farm Bureau president said it takes to prove to the Environmental Protection Agency that the storms are exceptional events that do not violate the Clean Air Act.

“By taking those dust activities off the table it would save our state and our county a lot of money, having to fill out those forms and make that request to EPA,” said Rogers.

He was in Washington this week to testify on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation in support of the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, a bill that would keep the EPA from regulating “nuisance dust” of the type found on farms and in rural areas.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., testified that her bill is a reaction to “overbearing regulations coming out of EPA, including the regulation of farm dust.”

Opponents called that claim a myth.

“There is no plan to regulate farm dust any more than there is to regulate fairy dust,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., at the hearing. “The EPA has made it very clear that the so-called plan to regulate farm dust is a myth.”

When it was passed in 1971, the Clean Air Act set air-quality standards for the country that are monitored regularly by the EPA. Areas that are not compliant are required to implement plans to clear the air, until it attains the clean-air standards.

Maricopa County is currently a “non-attainment” area, which Rogers said can translate into an expensive burden for farmers trying to live by clean-air rules. Equipment set up to monitor air-quality can be set off by a tractor driving down a dusty dirt road, farmers say.

Noem’s bill would not apply in non-attainment areas, but it would prevent the EPA from revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for a year. It would also exempt nuisance dust from the Clean Air Act, if that dust was not a public health risk and was already regulated by a state, local or tribal government.

While there is no specific mention of farm dust in the Clean Air Act, Noem said her bill is still needed — even though the EPA has said that it will keep air-quality standards unchanged for the next five years.

Markey called farm dust a smoke screen: He said Noem’s bill is really aimed at keeping the agency “from setting standards for the dirty soot that gets spewed out of coal-fired plants, incinerators, refineries and chemical power plants.”

John Walke, the director of the clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, defended the Clean Air Act and said it should not be weakened.

“The Clean Air Act is one of our country’s most successful public health and environmental laws in the past 40 years marking the modern environmental era,” Walke testified.

“The Clean Air Act has saved over 160,000 lives every year by the year 2010, and the law will save over 230,000 lives every year by the year 2020,” he said.

But Rogers said changes are needed — even if Noem’s bill will not help him directly because he lives in a non-attainment area.

“What this bill will do is, it would take some pressure off of other agriculture areas that aren’t necessarily noncompliant yet … and give them the opportunity to keep out of a non-attainment area and allow them to farm at a normal practice,” he said.

Rogers said the cost to farmers can be more than just the cost of paperwork.

“It can be thousands of dollars, if you don’t plant your crop today and you have to wait two more days, and you are not sure what the marketing implications will be six to eight months later when you harvest the crop,” he said.

“Any time I have to send a tractor to the other side of my farm … it’s costly.”

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