Idaho farm leaders are concerned about a law regarding fugitive dust that has been on the books since 1972 but they previously didn’t know about.
With the help of a state lawmaker who recently learned about the rule, they are setting their sights on a statute in Idaho code that gives environmental regulators the authority to issue fines for creating fugitive dust.
A top Idaho Department of Environmental Quality official said the department has not and will not use the rule to target regular farming practices.
In the past three years, IDEQ regulators have issued six fines to manufacturing or processing-related activities, including grain handling, for creating fugitive dust. The fines were based on an Idaho law passed in 1972 that very few people were aware of, said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder.
Idaho farm groups recently became aware of the law after a farmer who was fined for creating dust on his property turned to Batt for help. She said that farmer was fined for dust created while he was grinding grain.
Batt, a former farmer who is leading an effort to change the rule, said the possibility that farmers or ranchers could be fined for creating dust is ridiculous.
Batt said DEQ officials have been helpful in providing information about the issue but she wants the changes to be at the state and not just departmental level.
“This is serious if they are going to start enforcing this rule,” she said. “I want any change to be to state statute.”
Tiffany Floyd, the administrator of DEQ’s air quality division, said the rule targets particulate matter and is not specific to farming. She said the agency has no intention of using it to fine farmers engaging in normal farming practices such as planting and harvesting.
“We see farming practices as reasonable sorts of activities,” she said. “The DEQ … does not intend to enforce on those types of things.”
The rule provides for fines up to $10,000. Of the six fines collected by DEQ in the past three years, one was for $4,300, one for $1,440 and another for $1,200. Three are being negotiated.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last year that it would not tighten standards for dust at farms and other businesses.
“One of the concerns I have is DEQ is regulating agricultural dust when EPA came out in December 2012 saying they were not going to tighten farm dust standards,” Batt said.
The 1972 rule states that the purpose is “to require that all reasonable precautions be taken to prevent the generation of fugitive dust.”
“That’s awful broad and it’s left up to whoever’s in charge to consider what is reasonable or not,” Batt said.
Idaho’s Right to Farm Act protects farmers and ranchers who conduct generally accepted farming practices, but only as long as they don’t break the law.
Because of the 1972 rule, technically they could be breaking the law by creating dust, Batt said.