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Column: Adding some rural common sense to federal rules

WASHINGTON -- When I visit farms and rural communities across Minnesota, I'm reminded how our producers, businesses and residents approach problems with a lot of hard work and even more common sense.

Al Franken
File Photo: Al Franken thinks hard Tuesday while answering a quiz question at the University of Minnesota booth at FarmFest. He later debated U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, whom he hopes to replace. (Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau)

WASHINGTON -- When I visit farms and rural communities across Minnesota, I'm reminded how our producers, businesses and residents approach problems with a lot of hard work and even more common sense.

That's good, because agriculture -- and the jobs and economic activity it produces -- is the backbone of Minnesota's economy.

I also know that Minnesotans want common sense in their government, too. During this economic downturn, one of my priorities has been to ensure that our producers and rural businesses can operate in an environment that enables them to thrive and create the jobs and economic development we need.

Last summer, when I visited Luverne and many other rural Minnesota communities, I heard a lot about a couple of excessive federal rules that had me scratching my head, and had rural Minnesotans very concerned. Since then, I've been working to lessen their adverse impact on Minnesota farmers, businesses and communities.

Proposed new

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regulations on dust

First, I've joined a bipartisan group of senators to press the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pay close consideration to the harmful effect that stricter limits on dust regulation could have on of rural farms, businesses and communities in Minnesota and across the country.

Dust is a fact of life in rural Minnesota and its creation is often unavoidable in the agriculture industry. We all support efforts to safeguard Americans from breathing unnecessary pollutants, but common sense would dictate that the federal government should not regulate dust created by driving on unpaved rural roads and from tilling and harvesting crops on the 400 million acres of crop land in Minnesota and across the country.

Potential new dust regulations could stifle the agriculture industry by hurting productivity and increasing food prices, further stressing our rural economy. I am also concerned that cash-strapped Minnesota communities would be unable to afford to pave or treat local dirt roads to prevent dust creation.

I want to see the EPA give special consideration to the realities of farm and rural environments and retain the current rules on dust in rural America.

Cutting duplicative rules that threaten dairy producers

I also want to enact a bipartisan bill to protect dairy producers and processors from unneeded rules and costly fines. The legislation requires the EPA to exempt milk storage facilities from potentially costly, duplicative regulations and it prevents the agency from fining or penalizing producers and processors until they do.

Currently the EPA rightfully administers rules to prevent discharges of oil into waterways. But because the EPA considers milk to be a non-petroleum oil due to its butterfat content, facilities handling milk, including dairy farms, may be subject to penalties because of their milk storage capacity. It defies common sense to think that milk is a real threat to our water quality. This regulation also is duplicative and unnecessary because milk-handling operations are already regulated elsewhere by the federal government.

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Two years ago, the EPA suggested correcting this ill-advised rule, but still has not done so. Our bill would push them to get it done.

I will continue to work to ensure that the rules affecting rural communities make sense, so that rural Minnesotans know that their government is working for them, not against them.

Sen. Al Franken is in his first tern representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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