Court Decides to Regulate Farm Dust

Burden of proof put on livestock operations.

Published on: Feb 25, 2009

A federal court has upheld a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision to regulate farms for dust. The National Pork Producers Council had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington to review EPA's decision. The organization had argued that while EPA identified problems with coarse particulate matter in urban areas it failed to show any health effects associated with rural dust.

Rural dust comes mostly from naturally occurring organic materials such as plants, sand and soil. The appeals court accepted EPA's decision as "reasonable." In rejecting arguments, the court adopted the so-called precautionary principle, placing the burden on the livestock industry to prove that its operations are not harming the public or the environment. The court said the livestock organizations have mistakenly equated an absence of certainty about dangerousness with the existence of certainty about safety.

NPPC Environment Committee Chairman Randy Spronk said EPA issued the revised air-quality regulations despite acknowledging that it lacks any science to support imposing them on livestock production operations, and that apparently was okay with the court. More troubling, Spronk said, the court is requiring that we prove a negative.

Under the regulations, livestock operations could be treated as stationary air emissions sources and be required to obtain emissions permits under federal and state laws. As a result, pork production operations could face monitoring for particulate matter such as dust from dirt roads and fields and for chemicals, including ammonia that can form particulate matter. They also may be subject to Clean Air Act "new source review" requirements any time a modification or improvement to their operations is made.