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Dust regs still loom

By Staff | Mar 4, 2011

It’s good to be reminded, from time to time, just how important it truly is to have at least a few people in government who know how things actually work in the real world.

A potential regulatory change that has been pending for many months and could be a huge problem for rural America illustrates that point.

The federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency has under consideration the issuance of a rule relating to coarse particulate matter and air pollution that could have a devastating effect on farmers.

The rule might change the standard for the daily amount of particle matter – in plain language, dust – that can be in the air. This issue has been under discussion for several years and has been carefully tracked by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who as a farmer understands the difficulties uninformed regulatory action might cause.

Last summer, Grassley was joined by 20 other senators in writing to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson expressing concern that in their view the draft policy could open the door to inappropriately stringent rules regarding dust. This bipartisan group called upon Jackson to ensure that reason prevails. Frustrated that thus far these concerns have not been taken into account, Grassley wrote to Jackson on Jan. 25 further pressing the issue.

“Lowering these (particulate matter) standards could have devastating and burdensome effects on farmers and ranchers across the United States,” the senator’s letter said in part. “Excessive dust control measures could be imposed on agricultural operations which would only slow economic development and impose significant costs on our nation’s family agriculturalists.”

Grassley made even more emphatic in a statement accompanying his release to the public of the letter to Jackson why he is alarmed by the proposed regulation.

“The agency seems completely oblivious to the huge impact the rules and regulations it releases have on the general public and agriculture in particular,” Grassley said. “It defies common sense that the EPA would regulate that a farmer must keep the dust from his combine between his fence rows.”

The EPA is considering new regulatory action regarding dust because there are studies showing that strengthening this standard could have significant health benefits, most notably for people with heart disease and lung maladies.

Unfortunately, the science behind such action is based heavily on research in urban environments. How exactly dust in farm areas fits into the picture is a somewhat different issue and must take into account the realities of farm operations. Any resident of the Hawkeye State knows that at some times of the year significant dust is impossible to avoid on a working farm.

This dispute about controlling dust reminds us, however, that having elected representatives in Washington who understand how farms actually function is also important. In leading the fight for common sense on dust regulations, Grassley is serving well not only Iowa, but also all of rural America.

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