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EPA tries to solve last century's problems todayPosted Wednesday, September 29, 2010, at 4:21 PM
If the Environmental Protection Agency has its way, I'm pretty sure my house, or at least a few of the bedrooms will be condemned.
Apparently the EPA is trying to raise the minimum amount of particulate matter in the air. In other words, it is trying to regulate the amount of dirt released into the air. Violators will be fined. While I don't understand all the measurements, it will apparently double the current standards of PM in the air, even though here where I live in the heart of "dirt" country, I can't see a problem.
The possibility of the proposal being implemented is enough of a concern that recently 21 U.S. senators wrote a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson which said in part, "the current standards have been difficult if not impossible for current industries in the western portion of the country to attain, including agricultural operations."
The letter goes on to say, "We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment but not at the expense of common sense."
I think that is the point: Where is the common sense? After all, dirt is a God-given element needed to grow the things we need to eat. It is not a man-made "pollutant." It was here long before we got here and will be here long after we go.
The letter goes on: "These identified levels will be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock managers to attain. Whether it is 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."
OK, in my house, it probably could be controlled better than it is, but I soon learned when I moved off the concrete and into the country, "dirt" is an inevitable part of our life out here.
We do everything we can to preserve the soil and why wouldn't we? We need topsoil to raise our crops. Just like a farmer feels money saved is money earned, soil saved is also a future saved.
In fact, it goes deeper than that. Farmers are the original environmentalists. Our "dirt" is our livelihood. If we take care of it, it takes care of us.
It is also our future and our children's future. It is our savings account and our legacy. My husband and other farmers work everyday to improve the soil for the next generations.
I'm not sure of the motivation for the regulation now. Maybe it would have been helpful in the "dust bowl" years of the 1930s, when constant plowing and tilling of land (organic farming), combined with a severe drought, made dust a toxic substance.
My mother, who was raised in Oklahoma, told of walking to school covering her face to keep from swallowing the dirty air.
I've had many farmers tell me about farming in the 1950s and 1960s, when more tillage was needed for weed control. The farmers plowed the ground, then disked it several times, before finally using a harrow to smooth it out and then a planter to plant the seed. Then "all summer" they went back through the rows, cultivating them over and over to keep weeds down.
However, now most farmers practice no-till or minimum-till farming. The no-till approach means the only time the soil is disturbed is when the planter places the seed directly into the ground. Minimum till means we work the ground as little as possible, often just once, right before planting.
The amount of tillage has decreased a significant amount even since I moved here more than 26 years ago. At that time, we still cultivated crops at least once a summer. However, since the advent of Round-Up-ready crops, that is no longer needed.
In fact, there is a lot of evidence that soil loss and therefore the "dirt" in the air is less than ever before.
Remember, it was just a few years ago when the Corps of Engineers deemed the Missouri River no longer "muddy" enough to sustain the pallid sturgeon. In other words, we weren't losing enough dirt on our farms anymore to fuel the "Big Muddy," so until the practice was finally stopped, they were digging out channels and dumping the dirt right into the river. It was happening right here in Saline County.
A long-time and well-respected conservation specialist for the state recently told me how much soil is now saved with modern farming techniques. He also said after a big storm, the ditches used to fill with misplaced topsoil -- something that seldom happens anymore.
As much as I would love for my gravel road to be paved and the dust from them be eliminated, it doesn't make much common sense given the cost in today's tight economy. It would be financially devastating to mandate already struggling counties and municipalities or even the much-in-debt federal government to pave roads, often used by only a few people.
In fact, when a group like the EPA wants to regulate something that isn't a problem, I wonder if they've ever been off the concrete and really looked at the bread-basket areas of our country. When you get off the coasts, there is a lot of "dirt." But It doesn't take a scientist to see as you approach Kansas City (a relatively small, clean city compared to Washington D.C. or New York City) that there is a haze in the air above the city, which is not present here in rural America.
In fact, even in the driest parts of agriculture areas, I have never seen a "haze" of dirt in the air.
In the letter the senators wrote to the EPA, they closed by writing, "Common sense requires that the EPA acknowledge the wind blows and so does dust."
But I do have one suggestion: If they really want to clean up the dirt that is polluting our environment, they should keep the PM standards the same but take a look at the political ads running on our televisions right now.
Now that's some dirt that needs regulating!
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