EPA learns lesson from dust debacle

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


Cooler heads have prevailed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Either that, or someone at the White House sent down the word that the EPA's plan to tighten dust regulations was way out of line.

As the administration tries to promote efforts to create jobs, the last thing it needed was another job-killing EPA regulation. Last month, the EPA was caught trying to stop the development of several coal mines in Appalachia. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled on Oct. 6 the EPA usurped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' authority to issue a clean water permit to the mines. At stake were 3,800 jobs that would provide coal to power plants and factories, which in turn would provide even more jobs to the region.

For a president trying to create jobs, this didn't look good.

After that debacle, the White House most likely sent the word to the EPA that it had raised enough dust already by overreaching its authority. Trying to regulate dust off farms and ranches probably wasn't going to work -- at least until after the election.

Pardon our cynicism, but Washington, D.C., politics have gotten so whippy these days that it's easy to see an ulterior motive -- re-election -- behind every decision. Maybe the EPA was just doing the right thing and everything was based on science.

Or maybe not.

For months EPA and USDA officials had been signaling that the dust review was no big deal and any changes, if needed, would be realistic. Concerns over tighter dust regulations were uncalled for, they said.

Such assurances did little to assuage farmers' and ranchers' concerns, especially after EPA held a series of secret meetings on the regulations. In those meetings, representatives of agricultural groups who were invited reminded EPA that dust is a result of nearly everything that occurs on a farm. Any activity, from fieldwork to moving livestock, kicks up at least some dust.

The EPA was never able to justify its secrecy other than to say the agriculture groups' representatives would be more likely to the speak up behind closed doors.

We're not sure which ag groups the EPA was talking about. We've not run into a shy one yet. Especially when it comes to regulations that would, on their face, be oppressive, ag groups will always speak up loud and clear. No secret meetings would be needed.

We suspect EPA was the shy party. Perhaps its leaders thought they could smooth over concerns and keep folks quiet. All they did, though, was fire up the rumor mill and make itself look like a bunch of bureaucrats who are most comfortable operating behind closed doors.

That the EPA has backed away from tightening its dust regs is a good sign that someone in the EPA -- or higher up the chain of command -- just may be listening to the concerns of farmers.

It appears the EPA has tried to kill enough jobs for the time being.

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