Groups ponder recent dust rule proposal

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Submitting a proposed clarification to Idaho's fugitive dust rule to the EPA for federal approval could offer farmers and ranchers more protection, ag leaders were told July 16. But it would also include a public comment period and could draw the attention of national environmental groups.

BOISE — The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has asked farm groups whether they want a proposed clarification to the state’s fugitive dust rule to be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for federal approval.

The recent clarification to Idaho’s dust rule makes it clear that people who conduct generally recognized agricultural practices aren’t subject to enforcement for creating dust.

The 1972 rule requires “all reasonable precautions be taken to prevent the generation of fugitive dust” and provides for fines up to $10,000.

Idaho’s agricultural community became aware of the rule last year when a farmer was fined for creating dust while grinding grain.

State regulators, Idaho farm groups and environmentalists reached an agreement last month to clarify the rule to ensure that farmers and ranchers who engage in generally recognized farming practices aren’t subject to enforcement action.

But that change will be included only in Idaho’s rule, not at the federal level.

During a July 16 conference call, DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator Tiffany Floyd asked farm representatives whether they want the state to submit the change to the EPA for federal approval.

If the EPA accepts the change, it would become part of Idaho’s federally approved state implementation plan, which is required to show states are complying with the Clean Air Act.

Having it federally approved would offer farmers more protection, Floyd said. “That would protect the agricultural community in that it would be … state law as well as federal law.”

If the change is not included in the implementation plan, anyone who complains about a farming practice could argue that it is not a reasonable effort to control fugitive dust and ask EPA to act, said Lisa Carlson, a deputy Idaho attorney general.

If the change is included in the plan, a farmer can say he is following generally accepted agricultural practices that have been federally approved, she added.

Floyd said a potential downside to submitting the change for federal approval is that because EPA would publish it in the Federal Register, it would be open for public comment and could draw the attention of national environmental groups.

But if EPA starts receiving a lot of negative comments on the change, “we could always pull it and say, never mind,” Carlson said.

EPA officials have told DEQ officials the decision on whether to submit the proposed change to EPA is up to Idaho.

DEQ has until the end of the 2015 legislative session next spring to decide and farm groups said they are in no hurry to make a quick decision.

“We’ll do some further investigation of this issue and look at the pros and cons of it,” said Russ Hendricks, director of governmental affairs for Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.



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