Dust is a fact of life in rural areas, from driving on unpaved roads, to plowing farm fields and moving cattle from one location to the next.
Recently dust has even made its way to Washington, D.C. Coming under attack by activists, it has been made the focus of congressional hearings and legislation.
Rural dust is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, but a bill currently pending in Congress would remove naturally occurring dust from EPA oversight and out of the bull’s-eye of activist groups.
A dust up
Dust is no stranger to farmers and ranchers. In some parts of the country, like the arid West and Southwest, it’s as much a part of the ranch as the livestock and hay.
Rural dust is regulated through the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Standard. Areas, like in California and Arizona, that have a tough time meeting this EPA standard, are required to take further measures to reduce dust. But, unfortunately, a recent petition to EPA by activists has stirred up a dust storm in Washington.
The activist group WildEarth Guardians has targeted 15 areas in the U.S. as being in violation of EPA’s dust standard. The group has given EPA 90 days to find the areas in violation of the law or it will take the agency to court.
EPA’s standard serves to protect public health, and consequently focuses monitoring to larger population centers. Yet, of the 15 areas that WildEarth Guardians are targeting, nine have populations with less than 20,000 people. The group wants EPA to clamp down on dust in areas like Parachute (pop. 1,006), Pagosa Springs (pop. 1,591) and Lamar (pop. 8,659), all in Colorado.
These are hardly the population centers in which these standards are meant to focus. By trying to meet additional regulations, these areas will literally have to limit driving on unpaved roads and plowing in fields, while hoping the rain falls and the wind doesn’t blow. Failure could result in loss of federal highway funds, among other consequences.
Bite the dust
Currently, rural dust regulations are blowing in the wind, with many trying to determine which direction they may take. The Farm Bureau-supported Dust Regulation Prevention Act (H.R. 1633 in the House and S. 1528 in the Senate) would help eliminate uncertainty of regulation once and for all.
The legislation would remove naturally occurring dust in rural areas from EPA oversight unless scientific evidence can establish a causal link between rural dust and health effects. EPA admits that scientific evidence at best only “suggests” possible short-term health effects from rural dust, and further admits there is “inconclusive” evidence to show any long-term effects.
Most importantly, passage of the bill would also give certainty to farmers and ranchers that activities, which are natural and integral parts of their farms, are not unduly restricted. They would be protected from being regulated as a result of blowing wind or a lack of rainfall or any other conditions from Mother Nature, over which they have no control.