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A friendly visit from the EPA

DANIEL LOOKER 04/19/2011 @ 3:54pm Business Editor

To say that farmers are worried about what the Environmental Protection Agency may require of them is an understatement. The agency is doing a five-year review of its standards for dust emissions under the Clear Air Act. It’s coming down hard on agricultural runoff into the Chesapeake Bay and farm groups fear the Mississippi watershed will be next.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has countered what she calls myths about EPA and agriculture many times, but Tuesday, when she made a visit to two Iowa farms and a biodiesel plant, she was here to listen.

Prairie City corn and soybean grower Gordon Wassenaar tried the soft-sell approach when Jackson arrived at his 1,600-acre farm.

The cold, rainy weather wasn’t the best for learning about modern agriculture, so Wassenaar pointed through the window of his farm shop door to a field of no-till corn,  explaining how it fits in with soil and energy conservation and reducing compaction. And he pointed out that his sprayer has flow control and shutoffs when it comes to the end of a row. And that he buys his chemicals in bulk, returning the container to his dealer.

“She seemed to be quite interested. She’s a pretty sharp gal and she’s got a lot of education,” Wassenaar said later, after a mob of TV photographers and reporters had departed.

Jackson came to the farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and said that it was just one of many visits she’s made to farms recently.

“It was good to have her out. I commend Vilsack for doing that, just to have the dialogue,” Wassenaar said.

In a brief press conference in Wassenaar’s machine shed, Jackson said that “EPA is not targeting agriculture.”

The dust rules, which are part of a normal five-year review, will give her the option of not changing standards at all, she said, although some independent scientists are urging tougher standards. Extremely small particles in the air are a known health risk, related to heart attacks and other serious illness.

But Jackson said the Clean Air Act gives her agency flexibility in how it deals with rural areas, and that the states that actually administer the law after EPA sets rules, also have flexibility.

Legislation to limit EPA’s regulation of dust in rural areas has already been introduced in the House of Representatives, but Tuesday Senator Chuck Grassley, a frequent critic of EPA, said that he thinks the legislation will have a tough time getting passed in the Senate.

“I hope that common sense prevails,” Grassley said of the pending dust rules, which will be released this summer.

Grassley has met with Jackson several times to discuss her agency’s affect on agriculture.

“She’s willing to listen and I think she’s doing what she can to try to understand agriculture,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gordon Wassenaar is hoping that Jackson’s visit to Iowa will help ensure reasonable regulation.

“We’re from Iowa and we’re kind of known for working together,” he says. “We’re not as confrontational as some of the areas of the world.”

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