Farmers and ranchers have good reason to keep an eye on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the agency reviews standards for acceptable dust levels.

The EPA has done a review of the allowable amount of particulate matter in the air as defined by the National Ambient Air Quality Standard. Essentially, the EPA sets a limit on how much dust can be produced by agricultural processes. This limit is defined as the fugitive dust standard.

The EPA has been looking at the fugitive dust standard and is considering either leaving it alone or making it “twice as stringent,” according to a report by Drovers Cattle Network. The report also reveals serious concerns among the agricultural community that making the standard more stringent would place an economic burden on farmers and ranchers.

“Dust is a part of life in rural America,” said Tamara Thies, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Finalizing a rule that would result in heavy fines for creating dust by simply driving down a dirt road or herding cattle is unacceptable.”

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has repeatedly said the agency is trying to fight “myths and misconceptions” that surround the agency's interest in dust. Jackson has also said the EPA is not working against agriculture. When testifying before Congress a month ago, Jackson said the EPA is unlikely to change its current policy on farm dust, and she explained why the agency was looking at the issue. "We have no plans to do so, but let me be clear — the Clean Air Act passed by Congress mandates that the agency routinely review the science of various pollutants, including particulate matter, which is directly responsible for heart attacks and premature deaths."

Whatever action the agency takes will help determine how the agricultural community views the agency: as ally or adversary.

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