WASHINGTON American farmers have been ridiculing a proposal by U.S. regulators to reduce the amount of dust floating in rural air.
"If there's ever been rural America, that's what rural America is," said Nebraska hog farmer Danny Kluthe. "You know? It's dirt out here, and with dirt you've got dust."
The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to tighten standards for the amount of harmful particles in the air, facing opposition from U.S. farming groups who call it an unrealistic attempt to regulate dust.
The EPA is reviewing its air quality standards to comply with the Clean Air Act that prescribes reevaluation every five years. The agency's scientific panel proposes either retaining or halving the current standard for coarse particles, commonly containing dust, ash and chemical pollutants--particles 10 microns or smaller in diameter, about one-tenth of human hair.
In scientific terms, the EPA is looking to either keep the standards at 150 micrograms per cubic meter or revise it down to 65 to 85 micrograms per cubic meter.
Environmental groups say these tiny elements could be harmful if not deadly for people, causing cardiovascular or respiratory problems.
"They are small enough that they bypass the natural defenses of the body and can be inhaled deeply into the lung," said Janice Nolen, the American Lung Association assistant vice president.
But for Kluthe, who lives a quarter of a mile away from any community, the health aspects mean little weighed against the possibility of costly dust control measures he may have to take, such as watering gravel roads or tilled soil.
"They need to get real," he said, echoing the messages the National Pork Producers and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have been sending to the EPA.
Lawmakers from both parties also have been complaining about the reach of EPA farming regulations. In a recent manifestation, Richard Lugar, a senior Republican Senator from Indiana, sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter pleading for "common-sense" on dust regulations.
But technically, EPA can't use common sense if it clashes with science, as their assessments are required to be purely scientific and mindless of ramifications, said John Walke, clean air director at the National Resources Defense Council.
"The EPA doesn't care where the pollution is coming from, and our lungs don't care," he said.
EPA will issue final proposed standards in late fall and at least until then, "it is too soon in the process to know" how EPA will enforce them, spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)