Energy & Environment

EPA to Regulate Dirt

House members of the Energy and Commerce Committee bickered about the definition of dust in a hearing about a Republican bill to stop overreaching Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.
 
Democrats at the hearing on the Farm Dust Regulation Act of 2011 (HR 1633), sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R.-S.D.), fired a number of vicious shots at the the bill, calling it merely a red herring.  They claimed that the EPA doesn’t regulate dust at all, and that the wording of the bill was intended to strip the EPA’s power to regulate other destructive particulates, such as soot from urban factories.
 
Republicans claimed that the bill would prevent future EPA dust regulation that is currently on the books from strangling farmers and businesses with red tape, and that the current regulations hurt farmers and increase the headache and cost of compliance.
 
Rep. Harry Waxman (D.-Calif.) summed up the Democrat opposition with some over-the-top rhetoric:  “Today’s hearing considers yet another bill to allow more air pollution, more asthma and more heart attacks.  And once again, it’s a bait and switch.”
 
Waxman also said that the bill would have “sweeping environmental effects,” and that stopping the regulation of dust is “pure fantasy.”
 
“EPA does not regulate farming practices to reduce dust, and has expressed no intention of doing so in the future,” said Waxman.
 
Rep. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) compared HR 1633 to an Internet hoax spread to gin up anger about a fake e-mail tax increase, and then compared it to a bill regulating fairy dust.
 
“Just like the e-mail tax hoax, there is no plan to regulate farm dust any more than there is to regulate fairy dust. There is no attempt to accomplish that goal,” said Markey.
 
Although Democrats insisted that the bill was just a fantasy based on trumped-up, imaginary regulation, backers of the bill said otherwise.
 
Rep. John Shimkus (R.-Ill.) asked Noem, who was on the panel of witnesses, “How many agricultural groups are in support of this bill?”
 
Noem answered, “Over 100.”
 
Shimkus then said, “Are they just crazy?  They have nothing else to worry about but just the EPA?”
 
“Waxman continued to say over and over that their dust is not regulated, and it is.  The EPA does regulate dust, and the [EPA] staff considered tightening those standards,” Noem continued.  “When he says there is no concern, there is valid concern in rural America.
 
One of the agricultural groups that is supporting the bill, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), wrote a letter to the committee last month, saying that a slight raise in overall particulate matter standards would require the EPA to regulate farm dirt under the current standards.
 
“And, for what purpose?  Scientific studies have never shown rural dust to be a health concern at ambient levels,” said the NAWG letter.
 
In her written testimony, Noem explains exactly how the EPA regulates dust.  “Under current law, the EPA’s standards include all types of dust, including dust generated from agricultural activities and the dust that is typical of rural areas.  This type of dust is naturally occurring and includes soil, windblown dust, and dust coming from dirt roads.  I call it farm dust.”
 
“Farmers and ranchers that are already subject to the standard for dust in ‘nonattainment’ areas like Arizona know its impact on businesses,” explained Noem.  In Arizona, it can cost some producers over $1,000 per day to comply with dust standards.”