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Rep. Noem's dust bill to get hearing Friday

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

A bill co-sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from adding regulations on dust in rural areas is moving ahead in Congress, even though some say it's a non-issue.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on H.R. 1633 Friday morning. Noem, a first-term Republican from Castlewood who lives on a ranch, said Tuesday she will attend the hearing and provide a statement. She introduced the bill along with Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Va.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has said the bill will be debated on the floor and be presented for a vote before the year is up. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., has sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

Josh Shields, Noem's spokesman, said seeing the bill take the next step is good news for the congresswoman, who hopes the issue is voted on in both the House and the Senate.

"Rep. Noem is pleased with the momentum behind her common-sense legislation," Shields said. "This bill provides farmers, ranchers and small business owners with more regulatory certainty at a time when they need it most."

According to Noem's office, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 prohibits, for a year, the EPA administrator from revising ozone standards, also known as national primary ambient air quality standards, which are designed to protect humans, especially people with sensitivity concerns.

It would also apply to the national secondary ambient air quality standard, which is intended to protect the general welfare of an area from pollution.

The bill would also exempt nuisance dust from the Clean Air Act and exclude nuisance dust from references in the act to particulate matter, with some exceptions.

Nuisance dust is defined as particulate matter generated from natural sources, including unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, or other activities typically conducted in rural areas or consisting primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, wind-blown dust or any combination.

Noem's office says a form of regulated matter, coarse PM, is composed primarily of blowing dirt and naturally occurring organic material in rural areas and is not a health concern at ambient levels.

"If the EPA administrator decides to revise the standard, farmers and livestock producers will not likely be able to continue to operate under the lower level even if EPA revises the form to allow for more days out of compliance in a given year," according to a release from Noem's office. "Such a level could be economically devastating for agricultural and other resource-based operations in many states."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said there is no plan to regulate farm dust, but Noem disagreed with that view.

"The threat of further regulation by the EPA is very real and this legislation provides the certainty farmers and ranchers need," Shields said. "Rep. Noem's bill is a bipartisan attempt to inject common sense into a regulatory agency that is severely lacking in it right now."

A Monday Politico story titled "Caught in a dust storm on EPA bills," leads off about a "Republican amendment targeting the Environmental Protection Agency's nonexistent farm dust regulations."

The story said the bill led to a "surprising, and possibly precedent-setting, parliamentary maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid."

Reid has halted Republican senators from offering motions allowing for amendments to be offered to a bill even after a filibuster has already been defeated if two-thirds of senators want to allow it.

This would prevent the dust issue from coming to a vote in the Senate, although Johanns said he won't walk away from it.

"This will not go away. We will keep bringing it up every chance we get," he said to Politico. "Reid is going to have to deal with me at some point. He can't be king forever."

Andi Fouberg, Sen. John Thune's communications director, said Thune, R-S.D., is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, which has 25 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

"This legislation would prevent another overreach by this administration," Thune said in an e-mailed statement. "Unfortunately, legislative action has become the most certain method of controlling unnecessary and burdensome regulatory control under this administration.

"Job creators and employers around the country have cited regulatory uncertainty as a reason for our stalled economy. However, Senator Reid's tactics last week will make passage of this legislation even more difficult, despite the growing number of Republicans and Democrats who support it."

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., had harsh words for the proposed dust amendment.

"This is a non-issue. While some have tried to scare the ag community using this issue, the EPA has stated publicly several times that it has no intention of regulating farm dust," Johnson said in an e- mail to The Daily Republic. "Similar to the 'Cow Tax' in the past, this is a made-up controversy, and I don't see it going anywhere in the Senate."

The "cow tax" was a term used for an exploratory effort by the EPA to regulate methane. Some politicians, including Sen. John Thune, RS.D., and several ag industry spokesmen said they feared a per-cow tax. Thune even cosponsored a bill to prevent the EPA from regulating "carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions resulting from biological processes associated with livestock production."

The "cow tax" was widely discussed, debated and ridiculed and, in the end, never enacted.