Farm dust or fairy dust? That was the question before a Congressional panel Wednesday that approved a bill to suspend any EPA tightening of dust standards on farms for one year. The House Energy and Commerce Committee easily passed H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Prevention Act of 3011 on a 33 to 16 vote, but not before a lively debate on the wisdom of tying the Environmental Protection Agency's hands in enforcing the Clean Air Act.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully to limit the scope of the measure to non-industrial sources, or even neutralize it if EPA scientists find rural or nuisance dust harms health.
Representative John Dingell, D-Mich., charged the GOP with attacking a myth, what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has billed "fairy dust," since she's dropped any plans to tighten EPA's dust standard.
"It's a myth, the EPA reinforced that fact in a recent letter to two U.S. Senators," Dingell said. "Here we have a vast tempest in a teapot, where we are attacking a problem that does not exist, where we are beating a strong man and wasting the time of the Congress and the committee on a problem that does not exist."
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., disagreed.
"It doesn't make any difference what Administrator Jackson says," Whitfield said. "We know that groups are prepared to file lawsuits to require this ambient air quality particulate matter standard to be changed. For example Wild Earth Guardians is considering suing the EPA over this very matter."
Representative Lee Terry, R-Neb., argued EPA is just one lawsuit away from being forced to regulate farm dust, and John Shimkus, R-Ill. spoke about health perceptions.
"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."
The anti-dust rule bill, like many other GOP bills targeted at government regulation, is expected to easily pass in the House. But the measure faces a bigger hurdle in the Senate, where Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, continue to push a similar stand-alone bill.