Johnson slams farm dust effort after initially backing it
Sen. Tim Johnson has said recently that politicians crusading against farm dust regulations are using "scare tactics" to inflame a "non-issue," but he signed a letter last year expressing "continued concern" about the potential regulations.
In recent weeks, Johnson, D-S.D., has said politicians working to prevent regulation of farm dust are wasting time on something that the Environmental Protection Agency is not actually pursuing.
However, he signed a letter expressing concern about tighter air-quality controls to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in July 2010.
"We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment, but not at the expense of common sense," the letter states. "These identified levels will be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock producers to attain. Whether it's livestock kicking up dust, soybeans being combined on a dry day in the fall or driving a car down a gravel road, dust is a naturally occurring event."
The letter was signed by 23 senators, including Johnson and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and other senators of both parties from Midwest states.
Jeff Gohringer, Johnson's deputy communications director, said the senator took the correct position both times and has not altered his stance.
"Senator Johnson signed onto the letter before the EPA made clear they had no plans to regulate dust," Gohringer said.
"Since that time, they have made clear time and again they have no plans to regulate it. That's why the senator sees it as a non-issue."
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has co-sponsored a bill to prevent the EPA from tightening air-quality standards. She said the tighter standards would have a negative impact on agriculture.
On Tuesday, Johnson criticized Noem's stance.
"This is a non-issue. While some have tried to scare the ag community using this issue, the EPA has stated publicly several times that it has no intention of regulating farm dust," he said. "Similar to the 'Cow Tax' in the past, this is a made-up controversy, and I don't see it going anywhere in the Senate."
The so-called "cow tax" was the label given to the potential threat of EPA regulations on methane, which cattle produce in abundance via their digestive emissions. Thune was a leader in the effort to ward off such regulations, which have never come to pass.
Johnson also assailed the anti-dust-regulation crusaders in a previous teleconference with reporters.
"This is a false issue. There is no such thing as a dust requirement to be reduced. The EPA director has said this is a falsehood," he said then. "The Republicans are trying to scare people, farmers in particular. The EPA says that there is no such thing as a requirement on dust. It's ridiculous."
Josh Shields, Noem's communications director, said the congresswoman believes the issue is still in question and she has garnered bipartisan support for her stance.
"Rep. Noem is proud to have the support of several Democratic co-sponsors on her bill that represent rural farmers, ranchers and small business owners," Shield said in an e-mail.
"Like Rep. Noem, they understand the threat that EPA regulation of rural dust would have on their ability to make ends meet," he said. "Rep. Noem would welcome Senator Johnson's support on this issue, which would be a natural next step given the letter he wrote last year."
The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources's Air Quality Program measures particulate matter, as dust is labeled in scientific terms.
"We have a network of monitoring sites," said DENR environmental scientist Brad Schultz. "There are 13 active sites right now throughout the state. Some are in cities, some are in rural areas."
Four of those would be considered in rural areas.
"Our rural sites are fairly clean," Schultz said. "They're all attaining standards. In fact, all our sites are obtaining that coarse particulate matter standard."
The DENR sites monitor material that is 10 microns and smaller. For a point of reference, a human hair is 30 to 50 microns wide.
Schultz said he has paid some attention to the debate and saw that the EPA was looking at its air quality standards as established in the Clean Air Act.
"They've indicated they're reviewing the current standards," he said.
Schultz said he's not ready to offer an opinion on the issue until he sees what is being proposed and examines the research that the EPA is using on proposed new standards.