Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley held a meeting with the head of the E-P-A today (Wednesday) at a farm in Perry. Senator Grassley hoped to show E-P-A Administrator Stephen Johnson a live demonstration of a combine harvesting beans and the resulting dust. But rainy weather led to the second option where Grassley had to simply show pictures of a combine working on his farm. Grassley and farmers at the meeting say there’s no way to prevent the dust created by combining, and they’re worried people who move out near farms might complain.
Grassley, a republican, says the lack of a farm-dust exemption could lead to lawsuits over combining and even over dust from gravel roads. Grassley says, “I see the E-P-A rules as shutting down farming.” Grassley says someone in the environmental community may say that manufacturers can do something to the combines to prevent the dust, or counties can blacktop roads to prevent dust. Grassley says he sees this as an issue of “Are we gonna farm, are we gonna feed the world? Or are we not gonna farm and not gonna feed the world?”
Johnson says the pre-amble to the air rules makes it clear that farm-dust is not the main concern, and the focus is on urban and industrial sources of dust. Johnson says, “Senator, we don’t want to regulate dirt. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We don’t control the weather, maybe some people think so, but we don’t control the weather. And we don’t control the win. ” Johnson says by law his agency has to base its decision on the best available science and understanding what is the “best legal position” for the agency and for agriculture.
Johnson says the science right now is clear that urban and industrial dust causes problems, but he can’t say that for ag dust. Johnson says the science right now on ag-dust is inconclusive, and he says while the E-P-A doesn’t think ag dust is a problem, there isn’t the science to make a definitive answer. Johnson says the E-P-A will not push any enforcement of farm dust suits and says any concerns would have to go to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Grassley says he’s concerned that the issue would be left in the hands of state officials. Grassley says there has been a problem with “game playing” between the E-P-A and the D-N-R with the D-N-R saying they’re enforcing something because the E-P-A told them to do it. Grassley says it seems like the E-P-A is sometimes silently behind the state because the D-N-R wants to fine someone, but the E-P-A is the only one that can levy a fine.
E-P-A administrator Johnson says he sent a letter on the farm dust issue Tuesday to the Iowa D-N-R. Johnson says the letter makes it very clear that the E-P-A does not intend the rules to include farm dust. Grassley says even with the E-P-A’s statement — there’s still the concern that someone could file a lawsuit over ag dust. Grassley says whether the suit has a legitimate basis or not, it will still cost the farmer a lot of money to defend himself and Grassley says the farmer may win the suit, but go broke from the cost of defending himself. Johnson says proposals for a study of the health impact of farm dust are out and are due back in a couple of months.
Farmer Ron Heck hosted the meeting, and says he has the same concerns about a lawsuit that Senator Grassley raised. He says he’s concerned that someone will misinterpret the rules and sue a farmer over dust, even though the E-P-A administrator doesn’t intend the rules to cover agriculture. Heck says people move out into the country all the time and then get upset when they find things like farm dust blow onto their property.
Heck says the assurances from Johnson are nice– but Heck says they don’t ease all of his concerns. Heck says he would be much more comfortable if the ag dust was given the exemption rather than being mentioned in the preamble of the air rules. But Heck says Johnson has been convinced yet to make that move. Grassley says farmers and ag groups need to “keep up the drumbeat” on this issue so that they can continue farming they way they need to farm to feed the world.