More Farms/Ranches May Need to Control Dust

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by Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Some farmers in parts of Arizona and California already face daily struggles to keep dust at bay. But if an environmental group’s petition filed with EPA is successful producers in several other states also could be required to take action.

WildEarth Guardians petitioned EPA Oct. 27 in an attempt force the agency’s hand to come down harder on national ambient air quality non-attainment areas in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

In regulatory parlance, the ambient quality standards regulate dust as particulate matter. The petition asks EPA to designate 15 areas as non-attainment for particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter, also known as “PM10.”

WildEarth Guardians is a non-profit environmental group founded in 1989 that focuses on conservation efforts in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Much of the group’s efforts have centered on endangered species, climate change and clean-air issues.

WildEarth argues in its petition that state implementation plans to reduce particulate matter pollution have been unsuccessful, proven out by EPA’s own monitoring data from sites in 18 counties.

Although dust from farms may not be the only source of PM10, farmers in those regions may be asked to do more to reduce dust emissions, as is the case in parts of California and Arizona.

There are more than 13,700 farms operating in the 18 counties mentioned in the petition, including more than 7.6 million acres of farm land, according to information from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

Kevin Rogers, a Maricopa County, Ariz., farmer who lives in a non-attainment area where he and other farmers have taken often costly steps to reduce dust emissions, said he believes farmers who live in states mentioned in the petition should be concerned.

“If I was one of those farmers on that seven million acres I would be nervous,” he said.

Those counties include Alamosa, Archuleta, Garfield, La Plata, Mesa and Prowers in Colorado; Yuma, Santa Cruz, Pima and Cochise in Arizona; Dona Ana and Luna in New Mexico; Utah and Salt Lake in Utah; Jefferson in Montana; Tulsa in Oklahoma; Sweetwater in Wyoming; and Nye in Nevada.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the group’s petition is not aimed at farmers.

“This is not an effort to single out any one source of air pollution, it’s an effort to ensure all options are put on the table to deal with what are very serious health concerns,” he said.

“I can’t say what all is contributing to the PM10 problems in the areas targeted in our petition, we’re simply trying to jump start a meaningful clean-up process. For now, this isn’t about pointing fingers.”

AREAS DESIGNATED

Cities in these areas include: Tucson, Ariz.; Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, Parachute, Durango, Grand Junction and Lamar in Colorado; a portion of Jefferson County, Mont.; Pahrump, Nev.; Deming, Sunland Park, Chaparral and Las Cruces, N.M.; Tulsa, Okla.; and a portion of Sweetwater County, Wyo. According to EPA data from 2008 to 2010, these areas failed to meet the primary and secondary PM10 standards.

In addition, the petition asks EPA to “bump up” the classification of six areas currently designated as nonattainment for PM10, from moderate to serious. These areas include: Nogales, Ariz.; Paul Spur/Douglas, Ariz.; Yuma, Ariz.; Anthony, N.M.; Salt Lake County, Utah; and Utah County, Utah.

The petition calls for the revision of state implementation plans in the eight states. The implementation plans often include details about how non-attainment areas plan to reduce PM10.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS


The Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies are hoping to expand conservation efforts across the country. Very few acres in the regions mentioned in the petition were enrolled in the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program. About 190,000 of the 7.6 million farm acres were enrolled in CRP, according to the Farm Service Agency.

At the same time, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico have some of the highest estimated annual ton-per-acre wind erosion rates on cropland in the country. According to the 2007 National Resources Inventory, New Mexico cropland averaged 13.8 tons of wind erosion per acre in 2007, Arizona 12.8 tons and Colorado 11.3 tons. That compares to an estimated .4 tons from Iowa cropland.

The recent surge in commodity prices, Rogers said, could be the reason for a lack of CRP participation in Arizona.

“Our investment in the land is so great that the little CRP money doesn’t help much with the bottom line,” he said. “All our ground is irrigated and fixed cost are high. If it is farmable we are growing crops, not leaving it out of production.”

PETITION REVIEW

When contacted by DTN, an EPA spokesperson said the agency is in the process of reviewing the petition.

WildEarth’s Nichols said EPA has been aware of the situation in those states, but hasn’t taken action.

“Part of the problem is that there are no deadlines to take action, so even though an area may be in violation, the Clean Air Act actually allows the EPA to ignore the issue,” he said. “I’m sure EPA would also say it has higher priority issues to address. Fair enough, that’s why we filed the petition, which now imposes an obligation on the EPA to do something and clearly makes this a higher priority issue.”

Nichols said the group would consider its options if EPA does not respond within 90 days. “We may have to sue them just to get them to respond, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

Farmers and others testifying before Congress last week said measures taken by producers in some states have been met with mixed results.

Some non-attainment areas in California have come into attainment in part as a result of efforts by farmers. Non-attainment areas in Arizona, however, continue to struggle to reduce PM10 pollution. That includes Maricopa County where readings show the area remains in non-attainment. If state efforts to reduce PM10 are unsuccessful EPA has the authority to force states to further tighten measures or risk losing federal highway dollars.

Many producers have posted speed limit signs on dirt roads, parked combines and other equipment on windy days, planted cover crops, watered down or even paved dirt roads to cut dust — all efforts that hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

Rodgers said agriculture in the non-attainment area in his county accounts for about 3{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e} of the PM10 pollution. Yet he said many farmers are faced with additional costs to reduce particulate matter.

When it comes to Maricopa County, Ariz., Nichols said most of the concerns about PM10 pollution have little to do with farmers.

“The problem is unchecked development, poor transportation planning, and an unwillingness by the air quality agency to require reasonable pollution controls for stationary sources of air pollution,” he said.

“Clearly in many cases, farmers have stepped up admirably to do their part to address the problem of PM10, which makes sense — farmers no more want dust blowing from their fields than people want to breathe it in the air.”

 

© Copyright 2011 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp

 

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