The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has expressed its disappointment with a federal court ruling upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to regulate farms for dust.

NPPC had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington to review EPA’s plans to regulate emissions of coarse particulate matter (PM), or dust, in rural areas.

NPPC argued that while EPA identified problems with coarse PM in urban areas – mostly due to engine combustion – it failed to show any health effects from rural dust, the product of naturally occurring organic materials such as plants, sand and soil. A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report found no credible scientific method to estimate emissions from animal feeding operations.

In rejecting arguments made by the NPPC and other livestock organizations, the court placed the burden of proof on the livestock industry stating: “In assessing the scientific evidence, the (livestock organizations) have mistakenly equated an absence of certainty about dangerousness with the existence of certainty about safety.”

Prior to the ruling, EPA had the task of proving there was harm to human health and the environment that needed to be addressed and why its proposed regulation was necessary to address that harm.

“EPA issued the revised air quality regulations despite acknowledging that it lacks any science to support imposing them on livestock production operations, and that apparently was okay with the court,” says Randy Spronk, NPPC Environment Committee chairman and a pork producer from Edgerton, MN. “More troubling, the court is requiring that we prove a negative.”

Spronk declares: “We still believe that it simply is inappropriate to treat the naturally occurring emissions from an animal agricultural operation in the same manner as emissions from power plants or refineries.”

The EPA rule was issued in 2006, before the start of a two-year emissions monitoring study of animal feeding operations. The study, which is now targeted for completion by January 2010, was part of a 2005 agreement between EPA and the livestock industry. Data from the study is to be used by the EPA to accurately estimate emissions from livestock operations and develop new compliance standards and guidelines. More than 2,700 animal feeding operations, including 1,900 hog farms, signed the so-called air consent agreement.

“Applying this new particulate matter standard to agriculture mandates a solution before deciding if a problem exists,” Spronk reiterates.

This regulation could force livestock operations to obtain emission permits under federal and state laws. As a result, hog operations could face monitoring for particulate matter such as dust from dirt roads and fields and for chemicals, including ammonia, which can form particulate matter.

“This is a bad decision that will have a profound and long-lasting impact on the struggling American economy,” says Michael Formica, NPPC’s chief environmental counsel. “Farmers, business owners, workers and consumers struggling to put food on the table will be harmed by the court’s imprudent decision to use the ‘precautionary principle’ in determining the need for a particular government regulation.”