Air quality will always be an issue in the arid Western states of the Cotton Belt. Western cotton producers and their leadership continue to make sure that the regulation of particulate matter is not burdensome to their farm operations.
Congressional hearings in March highlighted many of the concerns that agriculture, in general, has about perceived, overly burdensome regulation.
Calif. Rep. Jim Costa told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a recent House committee hearing, “I submit that your agency often pursues a course of ‘agency activism.’”
Costa, who represents constituents in Kern, King and Fresno counties, pointed to the frustration of producers in his area who believe that the agency often oversteps its regulatory authority in its decisions.
In the hearing, Administrator Jackson defended the agency and pointed to a number of misperceptions about the EPA’s focus, including the tightening of farm dust or PM 10 standards. She stated the agency is not trying to increase the regulation of dust
“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,” Jackson said.
But, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau, because of an EPA settlement with the Sierra Club and as part of a five-year review of air quality standards, Maricopa County may be under tighter regulation for PM10.
Kevin Rogers, Arizona Farm Bureau president, says the new standard would have the EPA trying to tighten the county’s PM10 allowance of 150 ug/m3 to a much tighter standard of 65-85 ug/m3.
“We need to be concerned,” says Rogers, a cotton farmer in Maricopa County. “Reducing the standards puts agriculture under the microscope.”
Rogers was recently appointed to USDA’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force to “help provide guidance as the Administration pursues sound scientific research on agricultural air quality issues.”
California leads the nation in air quality regulations, which are higher than national standards.
On the day California producer Cannon Michael was contacted for his comments on air quality concerns, he was focused on complying with California’s reporting requirement for the ARB Heavy Duty On-Road Diesel Regulation.
The air quality regulation requires fleets that operate in California reduce diesel truck emissions and to retrofit or replace existing engines. It also required agricultural fleets report odometer readings for limited use agricultural trucks by April 29 of this year.
“The onslaught of regulation is never ending,” says Michael, who is also the current chairman of the California Cotton Growers Association.
There is a cumulative effect on the entire process of reporting.
“In this morass of regulation, you’re just not sure which one will hurt you,” he says in regard to the restrictions that regulations place on an operation.
Getting Involved Pays Off
Like Michael, Don Cameron, vice president of Terranova Ranch and active leader in the California cotton community, believes that in order to be an effective influence in the regulatory environment you’ve got to get agriculture’s message to the policymakers.
“We know we will be regulated,” Cameron says.
That’s why he advocates getting out in front and working with regulators to make sure any changes are sensible. He also doesn’t want to be surprised by new policy.
Recently, Cameron hosted EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on his farm. She spent about an hour and a half with him on-site. It is part of the way he keeps on top of air quality issues.
Brent Murphree has worked in the cotton industry in the western United States for 15 years. The information and opinions reflected in this article are solely those of the author.
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