By Mark S. Kuhar
Pete Lien, president of Pete Lien & Sons, Inc., Rapid City, S.D., told the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce that impractical attempts by the federal government to control natural dust sources could cause catastrophic job losses in an industry that already has been battered by the economic downturn.
In testimony delivered on behalf of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) on the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, Lien addressed aggregates industry concerns on regulating coarse particulate matter. Pete Lien & Sons, a supplier of aggregates materials in South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, is a member of NSSGA.
Lien discussed the current decline in aggregates production in the U.S. from more than three billion metric tons in 2006, valued at $21 billion, to two billion metric tons in 2010 at a value of approximately $17 billion – a nearly $4 billion decrease. Many aggregates companies have had to lay off employees for the first time in their history. Of particular relevance to the hearing, 70 percent of NSSGA members are considered small businesses. Because so much of the aggregates produced go towards public infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and water treatment plants, increases in the cost of aggregates, such as those from overregulation, are borne by taxpayers.
Dust in the Wind
Regarding dust, Lien said, “Like agriculture, resource-based industries such as aggregates production have limited opportunities to reduce it. Aggregates are used in nearly all residential, commercial and industrial building construction and in most public works projects.”
He continued, “To meet the current standard for dust, or PM10, aggregates facilities are required to have permits with state environmental agencies that seek to control dust by limiting production and requiring control technologies to limit dust on crushers and other equipment and road maintenance. Some dust is generated at an aggregate operation by crushing stone and truck traffic; however, most is from uncontrollable sources such as from roads and windblown dust, particularly in rural areas.”
One NSSGA member calculated that in order to meet a reduced standard, a typical facility would have to reduce production by more than two-thirds. This would lead to plant closure (and the loss of 50 jobs) or a dramatic increase in the price of product. Given that there are more than 10,000 operations in the U.S., this could result in significant job losses.
Dust Up Continues
Taken further, a cut in aggregate production would lead to a shortage of stone, concrete and asphalt for state and federal road building/repair, commercial and residential construction, which in turn would cause an increase in the price of stone for these projects ranging from 80 to 180 percent and would further suppress employment in the construction industries. Given that infrastructure investment is essential to economic recovery and growth, this additional burden on the aggregates industry would come at a time when both aggregate supply and jobs are of vital importance. According to Lien’s testimony, there is no practical way to control natural dust sources in the West and Southwest and reduce the PM10 ambient air concentrations. Because of this, NSSGA supports the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.
Lien concluded by saying that NSSGA was relieved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s recent decision to maintain the current National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM10. He pointed out that a future reduction in the standard would be difficult, if not impossible, to meet for mining, farming, ranching, transportation and other sources of coarse crustal fugitive dust emissions and would fall particularly hard on the Midwestern and Western states.
Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011
The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 makes an attempt to define what it calls “nuisance dust” subject to regulation at state and local levels. EPA would have authority to regulate nuisance dust only if local governments are unable to do so effectively.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) has 112 co-sponsors and defines nuisance dust as that “generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, or other activities typically conducted in rural areas; or consisting primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, windblown dust, or some combination thereof.”