Farm Dust Bill Passes, Advancing the Interest of Rural America

by Jackie Moreau on December 5, 2011

in Blog, Features

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A rare moment of common sense rang supreme in the bill markup with the bipartisan approval of Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 1633) by the House Energy and Commerce committee on 33 to 16 vote.  This bill prevents EPA from regulating particulate matter (PM) with an aerodynamic diameter greater than 2.5 micrometers under section 109 of the Clean Air Act, limited to one year starting from the date the bill is passed.  EPA’s regulation would be exempt where this PM standard is already regulated by the state or local government.  The agency would have to prove coarse particulate matter poses a serious health risk; if EPA were to initiate a new PM standard related to farm dust, it would have to pass a cost-benefit test.

However, leading up to this triumph in the interest of rural America, several of the Democrats’ platforms were armed with ironic and ignorant castigation, regardless of the amendment made in the name of the “overly broad” term of “farm dust,” or “nuisance dust.”

From the genesis of the bill’s introduction, Democrats have had issue with the definition of “farm dust.”  In the Section 3(c) of the initial bill, “nuisance dust” is defined as particulate matter “(1) generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, or other activities typically conducted in rural areas; or (2) consisting primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, windblown dust, or some combination thereof.”  To appease the concern over the vague language, an amendment was successfully passed, sharpening the term so that nuisance dust “(3) is not emitted directly into the ambient air from combustion, such as exhaust from combustion engines and emissions from stationary combustion processes.”  This addition clearly excludes fossil fuel combustions such as coal combustion residuals from the definition of farm dust.

Though Democrats agreed to the passage of this amendment, the bill is seen by some as an attack on the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-D) prattled, “I’m beginning to wonder what the Clean Air Act has done to the Republicans?  They’ve voted 170 times to weaken environmental laws.  Today’s bill will stop the EPA from taking action, even though it hasn’t taken any action.”  As I have noted earlier, regardless of EPA Chief Lisa Jackson’s public “promise” of having no intention to change the current PM standard under the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), her words hold no muscle against court rulings that could occur with the likely filing of lawsuits against the EPA from outside groups that would mandate a change in the PM standards.  This bill purely holds EPA accountable for their promises.

Waxman, alleging that the bill’s basis is to provide a loophole for other industrial operations that occur in rural communities, dubiously labeled the bill “a permanent permit to pollute.”  He was particularly vocal about open-pit mining operations and the possibility of this bill rolling back air quality regulations under the CAA.  Rep John Shimkus (R-IL) was convincing in his on-going listing of countless regulations and statutes that regulate mining already.  Shimkus went further, encouraging these types of job-creating industries to expand since America has one of the largest copper mines in the world.  “I come from rural America,” Shimkus said. “I visit community health clinics, I visit all my hospitals, visit with my doctors; not once in my 15 years has any health care professional in my rural district ever complained about rural dust. Never, ever.”

Democrats have also crowned “farm dust” a non-issue because the term is supposedly not “scientific,” as Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) maintained; it is rather, as she claims, an invented “political” term.  However, many farmers and ranchers, who are forced to comply with the policy standards set by the EPA, work within terms of dust and wind everyday. They do not lead “political” lives.  Their lives are vastly dependent on the knowledge of and adherence to science—agricultural science.  I would like to see a politician take on the responsibility of a single farmer, who provides food and fiber for 155 people every year in the United States and abroad.  Farmers’ lives must be more attuned to science so they can merely sustain themselves.  Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) pointed out the hypocrisy quite well: “It’s interesting how you can call it fairy dust, as if it’s fictional.  Then you say there’s scientific proof that fairy dust is harmful.”  Oh, the irony.

To the rural communities whose economies are highly agrarian, this bill is not a free-pass to pollute, but rather a one-year lease of relief for farmers and ranchers from the daily worry of potential tighter regulations coming down from EPA.

This farm dust issue that Noem’s bill has spotlighted has given rural America an authentic voice box in the mattes that shape their livelihood.  If H.R. 1633 passes the House, it will move to the Senate, where it was introduced by Senators Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) and has support from 26 bipartisan senators.

ty thompson December 11, 2011 at 11:47 am

What about the co2 in my belches or the sulfur compounds in my farts? Are those exempted? Will I be audited?

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