Every once in a while an e-mail goes around petitioning for the ban of dihydrogen monoxide, a dangerous chemical. The reader is aghast to learn that dihydrogen monoxide is “the main ingredient in acid rain” and “capable of causing suffocation if encountered in large quantities” and often will sign the petition and forward it to friends. However, closer examination soon reveals two things: (1) dihydrogen monoxide is nothing other than water, and (2) the petition is, in fact, a jest.
Recently, however, the EPA seems to be working along a similar vein and has proposed tighter standards on a common pollutant: particulate matter. Particulate matter pollution can dirty the air and water, limit visibility, and spur breathing problems. When EPA regulations were first applied to particulates in 1971, they were created to target soot. However, another form of particulate matter that the EPA intends to regulate is … dust. If only this, too, were a jest.
Realizing the ridiculousness of the situation, 21 Senators recently signed a letter that stated the following:
We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment, but not at the expense of common sense. These identified levels [of dust] will be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock producers to attain. Whether its livestock kicking up dust, soybeans being combined on a dry day in the fall, or driving a car down the gravel road, dust is a naturally occurring event.
From this regulation, several problems arise. First, while human activity can create dust, it is also, as the above mentioned letter states, a natural occurrence. How can it be effectively regulated? Regulations are intended to influence human behavior, yet dust is common in our natural environment. There are even dust storms on Mars.
Furthermore, regulation of dust is unnecessary. Those who cause dust clouds are likely to be the most negatively affected by them. Incentives already exist to minimize dust creation without the help of regulations.
Beyond being unnecessary, dust regulations would stifle productivity for many farmers and could lead to waste of other resources. Farmers would have to either cut back on activities that create dust or find ways to settle dust.
In many cases, minimizing dust creation would require minimizing movement and decrease productivity substantially, leaving farmers at the mercy of each day’s aridity. Also, keeping dust out of the air by artificial means would be a monumental task. It is possible that farmers could simulate rain—an effective dust reducer—by constant use of sprinklers or some other means. Yet this would encourage more water use, which runs counter to a primary objective of many environmentalists. Furthermore, the additional cost of these strategies could be too great a burden for many struggling farmers.
In a case like this, the EPA’s ability to commit regulatory overreach becomes apparent. It can easily lose touch with the needs of those on whom it lays regulatory burdens and stray into unrealistically stringent policies. A prudent course of action would be to heed the suggestions of 21 Senators and reconsider the proposed dust standards.
Kelsey Huber is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm