Farmers, Cattlemen Challenge New EPA Soot Rules

Published March 1, 2007

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new rule requiring a 50 percent reduction in fine particulate matter allowable over a 24-hour period subjects farmers, cattlemen, and businessmen to inappropriately strict new standards, according to petitions filed December 18 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Farmers and cattlemen, in particular, argued the rule will unjustifiably impose unprecedented regulations on dust kicked up by centuries-old agricultural practices.

The first real action required under the new rule was air monitoring activities beginning January 1, 2007. The rule was finalized on September 28, 2006 and took effect immediately.

Previous Rules Also Controversial

In the spring of 2006 EPA proposed new and more stringent National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). That action was taken just a decade after significant air standards changes in 1996, which many observers at the time considered unnecessary.

The 1996 standards caused much disagreement inside and outside the Clinton administration and were criticized as too aggressive, not based on good health effects science, and too expensive. EPA Administrator Carol Browner nevertheless implemented them on an emergency basis, after a shorter-than-usual time period for comments and debate.

New Rules Unprecedented

The comment period for the 2006 proposed NAAQS began in May 2006 with arguments for and against tighter standards.

Advocates inside and outside EPA argued the controversial 1996 standards, which are still in the process of being implemented, were not strict enough. Many of those advocates not only support the current effort to tighten the standards still further but also argue EPA’s 2006 rule has not gone far enough.

Opponents of the new standards say the research on air quality health effects used to support the 1996 and 2006 standards amounts to junk science that violates basic rules of epidemiology and toxicology. They point out EPA cannot link current particulate matter standards to any mortalities, let alone the thousands of deaths EPA is claiming it will prevent with its new standard.

Farmers and cattlemen are particularly troubled by EPA’s new standard. To attain the new standards, states will likely have to impose unprecedented regulations on traditional agricultural practices. In particular, states are likely to target dust kicked up by plowing, planting, fertilizing, and feeding practices.

“When you deal with agriculture, you deal with dust,” Tamara Thies, director of environmental issues for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told the December 18 Greenwire.

Farmers Feeling Pressure

The American Farm Bureau, National Pork Producers Council, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and National Association of Manufacturers have joined the cattlemen in challenging the new standards.

David Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said EPA has violated a consent decree with farm producer organizations that a two-year research project on farm dust would be completed before the government agency would propose new regulations for agriculture.

On the other side of the issue, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia all petitioned EPA that the new standards should be even tighter and stricter than the proposed ones. They were supported by petitions from activist groups such as Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, and National Parks Conservation Association.

Karen Batra, speaking on behalf of the Cattlemen’s Association and the Beef Industry, was not swayed by arguments for stricter regulation. The cattlemen “believe that the health effects studies relied on by EPA were not reliable science and do not justify another economic burden on stressed farmers and ranchers,” Batra said.

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. ([email protected]) teaches emergency medicine at Fort Hood, Texas and is a member of the Science and Policy Advisory Board of the American Council on Science and Health.