Dust Busting Not Just the Burden of Builders, Court Says
As a result of a Feb. 24 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in American Farm Bureau Federation et al. v. EPA, efforts to reduce “coarse particulates” — or dust — in urban and rural areas won’t be focused on the construction industry alone.
By upholding an October 2006 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to include agriculture and mining in its National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the court ruling ensures that the burden of reducing particulates won’t fall disproportionately upon developers and builders.
NAHB had sided with the EPA in an amicus brief filed a year ago as the American Farm Bureau, the National Pork Producers Council and other similar groups challenged the agency’s decision on coarse particulate matter. The court last month denied all of those challenges, finding that the EPA’s regulatory approach was necessary.
Coarse particulate matter — which in the construction industry is often referred to as "fugitive dust" — can be released during earth moving and other construction activities.
Heeding the advice of scientists and industry groups, the EPA in 2006 decided to drop proposed daily standards for coarse particulate matter. NAHB hailed that move as a major win for affordably priced housing and for home builders who faced annual compliance costs that could have amounted to billions of dollars.
The dust from construction sites is the same dust thrown up by a windstorm or a farmer’s tractor, NAHB told the agency, and does not need additional regulation. To have exempted the largest sources of dust emissions — agriculture and mining — would have left home builders and other members of the construction industry to bear most of the cost of dust regulation.
“The overwhelming evidence made clear that this proposal was a bad idea,” said former NAHB President David Pressly at that time. “I’m heartened that we could play such an important role in overturning this coarse particulate standard, which would have added billions of dollars in compliance costs for our nation’s builders. That would have been reflected in new home prices, with no effect on the safety or health of our citizens.”
Last month’s circuit court decision did leave the door open to further regulation of fine particulate matter, such as soot. The court agreed with environmentalists that EPA standards for fine particulates need further review.
“Because the agency promulgated standards for fine particulate matter that were, in several respects, contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decision making, we grant the petitions for review in part and remand those standards to the agency for further proceedings,” the decision said.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.