Iowa Public Television


EPA Refuses to Exempt Agricultural Dust

posted on October 20, 2006

Since trade accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. gross domestic product, last summer's collapse of World Trade Organization talks has far-reaching implications for Americans -- especially farmers. Agriculture remains the key sticking point in the negotiations. Developing countries are calling for the reduction or even elimination of farm subsidy programs. The U.S. has offered to cut some of its support, but only if other nations follow suit and remove trade barriers. Even if negotiators reach an agreement on agriculture, convincing Congress of the merits of the deal will be no small task. So the pressure is on U.S. negotiators to persuade the WTO and U.S. lawmakers to approve global trade reforms. Persuasion was the goal for Senator Charles Grassley this week as well. The Iowa republican invited the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to witness first hand why new dust emission guidelines could be perilous for farmers. Soggy fields ruled out a demonstration of soybean harvesting, but Grassley attempted to capitalize on the visit anyway.
EPA Refuses to Exempt Agricultural Dust For decades, farmers have enjoyed an exemption to the dust regulations in the Clean Air Act. But new guidelines, adopted in late September, fail to exempt agriculture. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a farmer himself, is concerned the new rules could expose farmers to expensive litigation.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA: " why should the farmer be in the position of somebody just suing him, when he thinks the law is on his side or the law isn't even clear and he may win it but it could break him winning it."

The new guidelines state the focus is on "urban and industrial" sources of dust not agricultural ones. But farm advocates are still concerned this will not protect them in court.

Mark Salvador, National Policy Advisor, Iowa Farm Bureau: "I just hope that the intention of the EPA rings true and the lack of the exemption for agriculture doesn't turn into something that hinders the ag industry itself."

Though the government refuses to grant an exemption for agriculture, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson assured those present that it is not his intention to make farmers liable for illegal dust emissions. With that in mind, Johnson announced he is commissioning a multi-year study to measure the impact of agricultural dust. Johnson also has sent the Iowa Department of Natural Resources a letter explaining the focal point of EPA enforcement is "coarse particles in urban areas" not rural ones.

Administrator Stephen Johnson, Environmental Protection Agency: "...our concerns are not with this kind of dust, our concerns are not with dirt. Our concerns are with urban, our concerns are with industrial sources. So we have been as clear as we can, given the science, that we understand. And we believe, uh, we have positioned, not only ourselves but we position agriculture in the most legally defensible position given the science."

Even with the letters and face-to-face promises Grassley didn't feel that he made any progress with Johnson.

David Miller, Market to Market: "Senator, do you feel like you've convinced the Administrator that he should give you the exemption?"

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA: "No, I have not convinced the Administrator, but you know Chuck Grassley, I don't intend to give-up."

Tags: agriculture Environmental Protection Agency news Washington D.C.