The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is concerned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current review of National Ambient Air Quality Standards of the Clean Air Act could result in the regulation of coarse particulate matter (dust) at levels as low as 65-85 µg/m3, or twice as stringent as the current standard.

In anticipation of a proposed rule on this issue, NCBA contracted with John Richards, P.E. of Air Quality Control Techniques to study the likely effects regulating dust at such stringent levels would have on attainment and non-attainment regions throughout the United States. The study concluded that moving forward with regulating dust at anticipated levels would bring vast areas of the United States into non-attainment or to the brink of non-attainment.

NCBA Chief Environmental Counsel Tamara Thies said the current standard is 150 µg/m³ with an allowance of only one violation per year to remain in compliance. However, she added that NCBA expects EPA to propose a new standard of between 65-85 µg/m³ with an allowance of seven violations per year to remain in compliance.

Claims they are equivalent

“EPA claims these two standards are essentially equivalent in terms of health protection. But while both standards may protect the public’s health equally, this study confirms that changing the standard would be devastating for our economy, and particularly for rural America. Regulating dust at levels twice as stringent will wreak havoc in rural agricultural areas in the country that would have to purchase new, expensive technologies to control dust,” Thies said.

“If EPA moves forward with a proposed rule as we anticipate, farmers and ranchers could be fined for driving down a dirt road; moving cattle from one pasture to the next; or tilling a field. EPA claims it’s concerned with urban dust. Yet their current efforts to regulate dust may enable urban areas to remain in attainment but will throw dusty, rural, agricultural areas into non-attainment needlessly.”

The study looked at 382 of the 990 PM10 (dust) monitors operating in the United States from 2007-2009, primarily located in the West, Southwest and Midwest, and concluded that the existing and anticipated dust standards are not equivalent in terms of attainment and non-attainment areas of the country. More non-attainment areas means more regulation and a direct hit on the bottom lines of businesses operating in those non-attainment areas.

Specifically, the study found that 42 sites currently are in non-attainment. However, of the sites studied, a change to 85 µg/m³ (98thpercentile form) would increase the number of sites in non-attainment by 81 percent (from 42 to 76). A change to 75 µg/m³ would increase the number of sites in non-attainment by 243 percent (from 42 to 102). A change to 65 µg/m³ would increase the number of sites in non-attainment by 348 percent (from 42 to 146).

Specifically, the study concludes that EPA’s expected revised standard would put some rural areas that are currently in attainment in the following states into non-attainment: Arizona; Colorado; Iowa; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; New Mexico; Texas and Wyoming. In addition, areas that are currently in non-attainment in California, Nevada and Utah would stay in non-attainment. The study also concludes that many more areas would be brought to the brink of non-attainment.   

“In our industry, dust is inevitable, but if EPA moves forward, entire states could be thrown into non-attainment or be on the brink of non-attainment where slight changes in dust emissions or weather conditions could throw them into non-attainment,” Thies said. “The bureaucrats at EPA may not understand our industry, but this study is further proof that regulating dust at such unprecedented levels will be financially devastating for production agriculture.”