BOISE-Idaho farm leaders said they had a cordial first meeting with state environmental regulators about a 1972 fugitive dust law they worry could be used to fine agricultural operations.
But they still have a lot of concerns about the state rule, which allows regulators to control fugitive emissions and provides for fines of up to $10,000.
"It was a good first step in trying to decipher what the rule ultimately could mean to any agricultural operations out there," said Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones. "We're concerned that in the future It can be applied in such a way that it may have a lot of unintended consequences (for farmers)."
Idaho ag leaders learned about the law when a southwestern Idaho farmer was fined for creating dust on his property while grinding grain and turned to a state lawmaker for help.
"It's definitely an area that we want to look into," said Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association. "We want to make sure livestock operators and cattle feeders are protected . in the event they create dust during their day-to-day operations."
Jones and other ag leaders met Oct. 14 with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality officials, including Tiffany Floyd, who heads the agency's air quality division.
Floyd said the rule targets particulate matter and is not specific to farming. She told farm leaders the law has never been and won't be used to target normal farming practices.
But ag leaders who were at the meeting said it's what DEQ considers to be normal agricultural practices that concerns them. For example, DEQ considers the grinding of grain to be a processing activity which could be fined under the rule.
The grinding of grain is a normal occurrence at feedlots and is the livestock industry's primary concern in regard to the rule, said ICA Feedlot Coordinator Britany Hurst, who was at the meeting.
"We need more information from DEQ about what they consider normal agricultural practices," she said.
Hurst said ICA would like an itemized list of what DEQ considers to be normal agricultural practices" so that there's no ambiguity."
Jones said farmers would like to see the rule cleaned up to specify how far it goes when it comes to agriculture.
"There are a lot of gray areas about what this 1972 rule means to agriculture," he said. "There seems to be a pretty high level of subjectivity about what is processing vs. normal agricultural practices."
The rule states that its purpose is "to require that all reasonable precautions be taken to prevent the generation of fugitive dust."
That's pretty broad, Jones said.
"I think there is a lot of potential for harm if we don't clean it up a little bit and clarify it," he said.
Floyd said DEQ will continue to work with the agricultural industry on the issue and is open to providing a specific list of what it considers to be agricultural practices.