Senator says dust regulation unnecessary; agency says farmers needn’t worry

In fields east of Lawrence, cars on N. 1500 Road are barely visible from the dust of a late season corn harvest.

In fields east of Lawrence, cars on N. 1500 Road are barely visible from the dust of a late season corn harvest. by Kevin Anderson

From driving down rural roads to cattle stomping around the feedlot, dust is a common byproduct of farm life in Kansas.

And that’s exactly why the state’s agricultural organizations are so concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s review of the Clean Air Act, which, among other things, stipulates how much coarse particulate matter (aka dust) can be in the air.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., cosponsored a bill that would prohibit the EPA from regulating farm dust. In a press release, Roberts said the regulation “defies common sense.”

To be clear, the EPA hasn’t proposed any changes to the limits of coarse particulate matter that can be in the air. Right now the standard is set at 150 micrograms per cubic meter, which can’t be exceeded more than once a year over an average of three years. If it is exceeded, states have to submit an implementation plan that details what steps they will take to reduce the pollutants.

The Clean Air Act has been around for more than 40 years, and the 150 micrograms per cubic meter standard has been on the books since 1987. It’s a limit the state of Kansas has never exceeded. What has farmers and Roberts concerned is the EPA’s routine five-year review of the Clean Air Act standards.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent advisory board, recommended that the EPA revise its current coarse particulate matter standard to between 65 to 75 micrograms per cubic meter.

And that’s a standard that just an average windy day in Dodge City could exceed, said Allie Devine, vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association.

“We estimate most of the western United States would exceed (national air standards) if the new lower standard for dust is adopted,” Devine said.

The Kansas Livestock Association has joined a coalition of other industries in the western half of the country to study the implications of such a standard and the health effects of dust.

“Here’s the kicker,” Devine said “The Clean Air Act requires there to be a health effect. And we don’t believe there is substantial data, or actually there is very little data, that supports the health effects of large particulate matter.”

While the smaller particulate matter can more easily escape into the lungs, Devine said the larger stuff mainly stays in the nose.

According to the EPA, scientific studies have linked exposure to coarse particles to increased respiratory symptoms in children and to hospital admissions or even premature death for people with heart or lung disease.

Furthermore the EPA contends the monitoring requirements don’t target rural areas. In Kansas, 10 air monitors measure coarse particulate matter. Four of those monitors are in the Wichita area, another two are in the Kansas City metro area, and the rest are in Topeka, Dodge City, Goodland and Chanute.

Kansas has never exceeded the standard. And according to the EPA, the vast majority of states who do have to reduce their emissions focus on pollutants from industrial and construction settings.

“There are no plans to regulate the dust from any farm,” said Kris Lancaster, an EPA Region 7 spokesman. “The focus is and consistently has been in urban areas where most of the air pollution is.”

Steve Baccus, a farmer near Salina and president of the Kansas Farm Bureau, scoffs at some of the proposals he has heard for curbing the dust from farming. They include speed bumps in feedlots, watering country roads, putting a diaper-like contraption on combines, lowering the gears on farm equipment so they go slower and limiting how many times fields can be tilled.

For Baccus they would all add more money and time to his farming operation.

“For some of this, there is no common sense involved,” he said.

But Lancaster said he doesn’t know of any such recommendations that have come from the EPA.

“We haven’t proposed any such ridiculous things,” he said.

As for Roberts’ proposed bill, dubbed The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, it would stop the EPA from imposing more stringent standards for one year. It would also give state and municipalities the ability to regulate the issue before the federal government. And before the EPA could impose stricter standards, it would have to prove there were substantial health effects from dust and that those concerns outweighed economic ones.

“Our producers deserve respect and appreciation from the EPA, not costly and redundant regulation,” Roberts said in a press release.

Tagged: farm dust, coarse particulate matter, Sen. Pat Roberts, EPA

More from Christine Metz


KS 4 years, 2 months ago

Another example of someone in Wash, DC that thinks they know better. Stay out of our lives.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

"While the smaller particulate matter can more easily escape into the lungs, Devine said the larger stuff mainly stays in the nose."

Really? No one ever breathes through their mouth, ever?

I think he should open his eyes and check.

Kontum1972 4 years, 2 months ago

then there is global warming...polar ice-cap melting is a myth...too...

itwasthedukes 4 years, 2 months ago

We need a war on dust! Man I just hate that dust! Why has this gone on so long unchecked? The dust special interest groups! We know the Koch brothers probably invented dust in the first place just to hurt people.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 2 months ago

Seems to me that Sen. Roberts has a solution in search of a problem. Where are the jobs Sen. Roberts?

Linda Cottin 4 years, 2 months ago

Obviously Sen. Roberts, and many of his constituents, are not familiar with the disastrous effects of continued unchecked soil erosion in the state of Kansas. Instead of fighting conscientious regulation he should put his efforts into ideas to help the State of Kansas protect one of its most important resources - Dirt!

Quoted from our own states resources:

"About 190 million tons of Kansas topsoil are degraded each year through man's activities. Five tons of topsoil spread over an acre is about the thickness of a dime or 3/32 inch.

Soils are not easily renewed in Nature. It takes about 500 years for an inch of topsoil to develop under prairie grasses. Unprotected crop fields can lose an inch of topsoil in just one or two years if exposed to wind erosion and heavy rains. There was a net loss of 208,000 agricultural acres to permanent nonagricultural uses from 1982 to 1987. This loss is irreversible as many of these acres ended up as subdivisions, malls, parking lots, highway corridors, water impoundments and the like.

National Resources Inventory, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service *

1988 Report, Kansas State Board of Agriculture "

cavtrooper 4 years, 2 months ago

Well, after we have won the "war" on dust, the starving folks on the East and West coasts can congradulate themselves on battle well fought as they pay $5 for a loaf of crappy bread made with contaminated overseas grain - idiots. Next EPA be regulating the number of breaths each person takes as to minimize the O2 intake and CO2 output - for the children of course! Unless you're on the dole. Because you're not doing anything productive so you use less air. And you vote liberal / progressive to insure your place at the teat.

Kate Rogge 4 years, 2 months ago

Sounds to me like yet another baloney anti-EPA bill taken from the American Legislative Exchange Council's playbook.

kernal 4 years, 2 months ago

Since the EPA has yet to propose any change to the standard for coarse particulate matter, seems to me Sen. Roberts has put the cart before the donkey. Just who are these agricultural organizations expressing concern based on rumors and conjecture?

Dan Eyler 4 years, 2 months ago

Remember Kansas, remember your roots. We are an agriculture state and we have done an outstanding job of protecting our environment. We have pitfalls but we continue to improve. That process is called conservation and Kansas sets a really good example for conservationists. But when I hear someone using the term environmentalist I realize quickly they really don't hold real traditional Kansas values and common sense. It is environmentalists who are proposing a law that could regulate the amount of dust in the air. A conservationist realizes that we live in Kansas, the bread basket of the world an agricultural giant and we make dust and we feed the world. An environmentalist wants to tax a farmer who is growing grain to feed the world because growing wheat that feeds the world requires dust in the air. It is so easy to be an environmentalist, it takes brains to be a Kansas conservationist. It takes common sense.

Jim Phillips 4 years, 2 months ago

Where are our priorities? Everyone knows bovine flatulence is a major contributing factor to global warming. We need legislation banning cattle from passing gas before we ban dust.

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