The American Soybean Association (ASA) has expressed appreciation that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson has offered to send a letter to the states clarifying that a new EPA rule does not change the existing status of agricultural dust regulations.

Johnson offered the letter during a visit to the Perry, Iowa, farm of ASA past-President Ron Heck. The top EPA official was invited to meet with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to listen to producers’ concerns about EPA’s proposed dust control regulations.

Grassley requested the meeting because EPA did not include an exemption for agricultural sources of dust, as was proposed earlier by the agency, when EPA recently announced revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which address fine and course particle pollution.

Instead, the agency included some additional information in the preamble that says agricultural sources shall not be subject to meeting the proposed standards. Johnson said EPA cannot put an exemption in the rule because Congress does not allow them to include exemptions.

Johnson emphasized that no new rules have been imposed on agriculture. "We want to make it clear that we see agriculture as a producer of solutions, not problems," he said. "Our concern is focused on urban and industrial sources of coarse particulate matter. We don’t want to regulate dirt — we don’t think it’s the right thing for the EPA to do."

Grassley expressed concern that state agencies might feel compelled to enforce the rules differently, disregarding EPA’s intent, which he maintains puts farmers in jeopardy. Farmers at the meeting were concerned about being exposed to lawsuits because they aren’t exempt from the regulations.

Heck, who is also a director of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), said he was comfortable with Johnson’s intentions, but without an exemption for farmers in the rule, there are no guarantees against lawsuits.

"I’m still concerned about the application of this somewhere down the road, someone taking it out of context and interpreting the rule and using it as an excuse to sue a farmer over dust even though EPA does not intend this rule to cover farm dust," Heck said.

"But Administrator Johnson did agree he would send a letter to the states clarifying the new rule does not change the existing status of agricultural dust regulations."

ISA President Ray Gaesser told Johnson, "We need a very clear statement about your position on agricultural particulate matter, both for livestock and crop farmers, to protect us from lawsuits. Even if a lawsuit is frivolous, it can break a farmer while he fights it."

Heck said, "Soybean farmers also appreciate Senator Grassley’s leadership on this issue, and support his requests that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hold a hearing on the revised final EPA rule and that USDA’s Economic Research Service study the economic impact this rule could have on agriculture."