WASHINGTON — The EPA is trying to put to rest what it calls a "myth" that it is going to crack down on farm dust.
In letters to two senators last week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency won't expand its current air quality standards to include dust created by agriculture. The agency released the letters Monday.
Republicans and some farm-state Democrats have used the issue on the campaign trail, arguing that the EPA is set to penalize farmers for everyday activities. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said in a recent debate that the agency is "out of control" and was preparing to regulate dust.
The House GOP has pushed a host of measures aimed at weakening, delaying or scrapping environmental regulations in recent months, saying they view them as job killers. Similar efforts are not expected to be successful in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Obama administration officials have tried to deflect talk of a dust rule for months, to little avail. A statement released by the agency Monday said that "EPA hopes that this action finally puts an end to the myth that the agency is planning to expand regulations of farm dust."
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said there has been considerable anxiety in farm country about the possibility of increased regulation on agriculture.
"We hope this action finally puts to rest the misinformation regarding dust regulation and eases the minds of farmers and ranchers across the country," Johnson said.
Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, have pushed legislation that would block the dust rule if it had been proposed.
Noem issued a statement Monday saying that the announcement does nothing to change the fact that the agency has the ability to regulate farm dust. But Johanns called the EPA statement a "victory," saying he would abandon an amendment on the issue he planned to offer to a spending bill this week.
"EPA has finally provided what I've been asking for all along," Johanns said. "Unequivocal assurance that it won't attempt to regulate farm dust."