The air quality issue has been brewing in agriculture for several years. The government stepped in a few years ago and prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from posting dust regulatory levels because there were no standards based on previous studies. In other words, there was no way to know what was normal. Without knowing what's normal, it's unfair to say someone is braking a standard because of their farming activities.
Studies ensued, with some of them conducted at Purdue University. Back in September, Senator Richard Lugar, up for re-election next year and facing a Republican challenger in the primaries, co-sponsored legislation that would require EPA to wait an additional year before imposing stringent dust standards. Called the Farm Dust Regulation Act, it was part of the Republican's jobs bill. The legislation would allow states and localities flexibility in addressing real dust issues before the federal government could get involved.
Everyone knows the likelihood that any jobs bill and legislation tied to it will go anywhere anytime soon. So Lugar welcomed with open arms word last week that the EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, issued a statement saying EPA would not tighten controls on farm dust at this time. Lugar co-authored a letter to Jackson in February about the issue that was signed by 30 senators. Nothing happens fast in Washington.
Up until the announcement, word was that EPA was considering lowering the appropriate level of dust that can be admitted into the air. Lugar's aides, at least, claim that if that had been put into effect, some agricultural and other resource-based operations in Indiana and elsewhere could have been forced out of business. The announcement by the administrator, however, called for current standards, not new regulations, to remain in place.
Despite the positive news, Lugar, the politician, realizes this isn't the end of the battle. It's more like a cease-fire. He noted in a press release issued under his name on this subject that he was still concerned that EPA could consider regulations in the future. It's still possible at some point that EPA, without legislative action, could impose unmanageable dust regulations on farmers and ranchers in the U.S., including some Indiana farm operations, Lugar concludes. The bottom line is that while it's a temporary victory, those interested in agriculture should still pay close attention to the dust issue in the future.