BOISE-Idaho farm leaders are concerned about a previously unknown state law regarding farm dust that has been on the books since 1972.
With the help of a state lawmaker who discovered the rule, they are pushing back against a statute in Idaho code that allows environmental regulators to fine farmers and ranchers for creating dust.
In the past two years, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality regulators have fined six farmers for fugitive dust on their land. The fines were based on an Idaho law passed in 1972 that few people were aware of, said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder.
Batt, a former farmer who is leading the effort to eliminate the rule, said fining farmers or ranchers for creating dust is ridiculous.
Batt said DEQ officials have been helpful in providing information about the issue but she wants the changes to be at the state and not just departmental level.
"This is serious if they are going to start enforcing this rule," she said. "I want any change to be to state statute."
Idaho farm groups recently became aware of the 1972 law after a farmer who was fined for having dust on his property turned to Batt for help.
The rule provides for fines up to $10,000. Of the six fines handed out by DEQ in the past two years, one was $5,400, and three others were $1,800, $1,400 and $1,200 respectively. Two are being negotiated.
News of the 1972 rule's existence and the recent fines have alarmed the state's farming industry, including ranchers.
"Dust is generated literally by everything we do in agriculture," said Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last year that it would not tighten standards for dust at farms and other businesses.
"One of the concerns I have is DEQ is regulating agricultural dust when EPA came out in December 2012 saying they were not going to tighten farm dust standards," Batt said.
The 1972 rule states that the purpose is "to require that all reasonable precautions be taken to prevent the generation of fugitive dust."
It also says that "all reasonable precaution shall be taken to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne."
"That's awful broad and it's left up to whoever's in charge to consider what is reasonable or not," Batt said.
Under the Idaho Right to Farm Act, farmers and ranchers who conduct generally accepted farming practices are protected from nuisance complaints. However, they are only protected as long as they don't break the law.
Because of the 1972 rule, "technically (they) are breaking the law by creating the dust," Batt pointed out.