Congressional dustup over farm dust: A problem the White House says does not exist

A bill that aims to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating farm dust addresses an imaginary problem and could choke critical powers from the Clean Air Act, according to opponents.

After the House passed the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, H.R. 1633, on Thursday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama will veto it if it lands on his desk, citing an administration policy statement that says the bill “purports to address a problem that does not exist.”

The “ambiguously written bill would create high levels of regulatory uncertainty regarding emission control requirements that have been in place for years,” the Obama administration’s statement reads.

But U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn, all Republicans from Colorado, co-sponsored the legislation anyway. Gardner maintains he is not swayed by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s insistence that her agency has no designs to regulate farm dust.

“The EPA is notorious for trying to implement regulations through the back door, and that is exactly what is happening with regard to farm dust,” Gardner said. “Despite denials from agency officials saying they don’t regulate farm dust, the Energy and Commerce Committee has demonstrated that these denials are nothing more than semantics. During an October hearing on H.R. 1633, the ‘Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act,’ a top EPA official acknowledged that the EPA does regulate ‘course particles in the air,’ which includes farm dust. Therefore, the EPA is in fact regulating farm dust.”

Or could it be the polluters who are trying to go through the back door with H.R. 1633?

“The bill is sweepingly overbroad, creating numerous damaging consequences that appear to be unintended but that would cause real harms to Americans,” John Walke, a senior attorney and associate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote last month. “The result would be increases in harmful soot pollution – not just coarse particulate matter (PM10) but deadly fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – across the country. And not just in rural America but urban and metropolitan areas too. The legislation inexplicably eliminates, weakens or blocks federal Clean Air Act authority over overwhelmingly industrial soot pollution from power plants, manufacturing facilities, mines, other industrial facilities and even the nation’s fleet of motor vehicles …”

The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act — an extension of the GOP-led House’s crusade to undermine the nation’s bedrock environmental laws — is spurring its share of confusion.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bill Donald issued a statement after the vote saying Americans are worried about being fined for moving cattle, tilling a field or driving down a dirt road.

Still, not everyone is buying it.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said he is “disappointed” the legislation passed the House and that representatives are wasting taxpayer time and money.

“As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly said, both verbally and in writing to members of Congress, the EPA is not proposing to revise farm dust regulations,” he said yesterday. “Despite this assurance, misinformation regarding potential dust regulation continues to spread across the country, creating unnecessary concern for farmers and ranchers. Congress should stop politicizing this issue and move on to passing meaningful legislation to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”

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About the Author

Troy Hooper

Troy Hooper covers environmental policy for the American Independent News Network. His work has been published in The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, Playboy, New York Post, People and dozens of other publications. Hooper has covered the Winter Olympics in Italy, an extreme ski camp in South America and gone behind the scenes with Hunter S. Thompson on election night in 2004. Born and raised in Boulder, Hooper has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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