Noem’s dust bill divides politicians but has gained ag-group supportLegislation passes House, awaits action in Democrat-controlled Senate.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem says agriculture producers don’t trust the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to keep its hands off farm dust, so she continues to push a bill to ensure that it will lose that authority.
It has become a point of contention, with critics saying it’s a law that is not needed and some mocking Noem and others for supporting it.
Her two declared Democratic rivals for the state’s lone seat in the House, Matt Varilek and Jeff Barth, differ on it. Varilek opposes it, calling it a needless bill, while Barth said he supports it.
Noem, R-S.D., said the bill, if passed into law, would prevent the EPA from imposing more stringent federal dust standards. It also exempts nuisance dust from EPA regulation where dust is already regulated under state, tribal or local law.
Noem co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power passed Noem’s bill, H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.
The full Energy and Commerce Committee approved it 33-16 and the House approved it 268-150 on Dec. 8.
It was then sent to the Senate.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., has offered a Senate version of the bill.
Its fate there is much less clear. Unlike the Republican-controlled House, the Senate is run by Democrats, many of whom have assailed the bill. But if it passes the Senate, President Obama has vowed to veto it and it seems highly unlikely two-thirds of the Senate would vote to overturn the veto.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly said her agency has no intentions of imposing stricter guidelines. But Noem has said as long as the EPA has the ability to do so, her bill is needed.
She said the EPA’s standard could change during the rulemaking process or as the result of legal challenges. In fact, EPA made changes to its original dust standard proposals in 1996 and 2006 during the review process.
South Dakota Farm Bureau Chief Executive Officer Michael Held said Noem is on the right track.
“We have supported the bill, continue to support the bill, are encouraging the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the president,” Held said. “A strong message needs to be sent to the EPA.”
He said there are “lots of misconceptions about the EPA and rural issues” and the farm dust bill is an example of the need to draw a line.
Held said dust in rural America has been studied before and will be re-evaluated in five years by the EPA. The agency did announce it was discussing reducing the amount of particulate matter allowed in the air by 50 percent, he said.
The Clean Air Act requires checking the issue over and over again, Held said, and that’s why a law mandating the EPA does not alter current limits is a good idea. While critics of the proposed law have said there is no need for such legislation, he disagrees.
Held said he knows farmers in Arizona and California who have told him they are prohibited by law from operating on some days when the air is judged to be too thick with dust.
He said the facts need to come to the fore, and not politics.
“It has become a partisan issue, and I don’t understand why,” Held said.
The EPA has created maps that show changes that would be required if the standard would have been lowered by 50 percent.
“The EPA’s map showed, most counties west of the Mississippi would have times out of compliance,” he said.
Farmers and ranchers in the state are “strongly supportive” of Noem’s bill, he said.
Barth said he agrees with Noem.
“I am not one of those who would ridicule Noem on this issue,” he said. “Dust is an issue for many businesses and local governments, not just farming. Those of us who drive on gravel roads learned many years ago to roll up your car windows as another vehicle approaches on a dry day.
“Who thinks banning gravel roads is a good idea?” he asked. “We should not regulate people out of business (mining, woodworking, smelting, concrete, farming, lumber, grain elevators and grain transportation) with our economy so weak.”
Barth said before he was elected to the Minnehaha County Commission, he thought lawyers were the biggest trouble in the country.
“I am now more worried about bureaucrats,” he said. “I remember the story about British colonial office buildings in Singapore being required to have 45-degree roofs as the bureaucrats in London wanted to be assured that the snow would slide off. One size determined in D.C. or London does not fit all.”
Barth said he knows there have not been federal efforts to regulate dust.
“There has been no stated intention from the EPA to additionally regulate dust. Thus Noem’s efforts in this area seem moot,” he said. “She may have had better issues to expend her limited political capital on, but that was her decision and her judgment. It will and should (after all this effort) become law.”
Varilek holds a differing view on the bill, while supporting the concept of opposing EPA regulation.
“With so many real issues looming, it was a mistake for Kristi Noem to spend so much time, effort and taxpayer money on her dust bill,” he said. “She made a lot of headlines for herself, but very little headway when it comes to shaping real programs that affect the bottom line for our farmers and ranchers.
“If the EPA really did propose a dust rule, I’d be the first to oppose it,” Varilek said. “But even many of Kristi’s allies long ago dismissed her bill as a waste of time.”
South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf criticized Noem for her continued focus on the bill.
“Every day that Kristi Noem spends fighting farm dust regulations that don’t exist is another day Noem isn’t fighting to create jobs,” Nesselhuf said.