The regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Karl Brooks, was in Des Moines last week to speak to the Agribusiness Association of Iowa's annual conference. Brooks is the top EPA official in the region that covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. He told those attending the AAI meeting, which includes fertilizer dealers, chemical dealers and others in the crop input business, that government regulators won't impose numeric standards for nitrogen levels in water that could impede the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Such rules for the Chesapeake Bay and in Florida have raised concerns that farmers in Iowa and other Midwest states could eventually be subject to regulations restricting nitrogen application. Farmers' use of fertilizers has been blamed for poor water quality in Iowa rivers and lakes and in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Those rules have little application for row crop farming in Iowa," said Brooks. He noted that his agency has been beset by inflammatory talk and rumors "that sound good on talk radio programs." But the EPA, he said, has gone out of its way to try to find common ground with farmers.
What about dust regulations? "There will be no new anti-dust regulations on farming"
Brooks also addressed the issue of possible federal dust regulations for farms. He denied, as has his boss, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, that the agency intends to impose particulate rules for air quality that might restrict the use of farm equipment that kicks up dust in fields.
Fears of federal regulators imposing dust regulations on farm equipment operating in fields became so emotional last fall that the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent EPA from imposing anti-dust rules, despite EPA's repeated denials of any such intent. Brooks told the meeting last week in Iowa that the particulate monitors are located in urban areas and pick up readings from industrial factories and power plants. "There will be no new anti-dust regulations on farming, even if we continue to have dry soil conditions," he said.
EPA wants to work with farmers, to find solutions to pollution, instead of filing lawsuits
Brooks said he understands why EPA is a target of those who are opposed to what they say is excessive government regulation. "Criticism of EPA comes with the territory," said Brooks. "However, we want to work with farmers, to find common ground, before the lawsuits are filed."
Brooks said EPA has taken administrative actions, which usually amount to fines, against 54 of the 1,500 Iowa livestock confinements that are large enough to be required to have manure runoff controls. Enforcement of runoff regulations is shared by federal and state government, he pointed out. Some farm groups say the states should be the primary enforcer of those rules. "We work with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources," Brooks said. "Only in a few cases have we had to take action on our own."