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Dust-up continues over Noem dust bill; Democrats say it's non-issue

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Rep. Kristi Noem isn't letting the dust settle.

Noem, R-S.D., testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power Subcommittee Tuesday on the bill she introduced to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from tightening regulations on farm dust.

Noem co-sponsored H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, which she terms a "common sense bill."

"My bill is a bipartisan approach to ending the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of farm dust in rural America, while still maintaining the protections of the Clean Air Act to the public's health and welfare," Noem testified Tuesday.

"In my home state of South Dakota, this is a huge concern for farmers, ranchers and small business owners who are struggling to stay afloat in an already stressed economy."

Noem said what she calls "farm dust" can be produced by agricultural activities and is also naturally occurring and includes soil, windblown dust and dust coming from dirt roads.

"This is completely different than the type of dust typical in urban areas which has been shown to have adverse health effects," she testified. "I want to be clear that we are not talking about areas where there may be health concerns related to particulate matter. My legislation specifically focuses on rural dust and allows the standard to apply unchanged to urban areas."

She testified she wanted to "clear up the myth" that the EPA does not regulate farm dust.

"Farmers and ranchers that are already subject to the standard for dust in 'nonattainment' areas like Arizona know its impact on businesses. In Arizona, it can cost some producers over $1,000 per day to comply with dust standards.

"We cannot continue to burden our farmers and ranchers with a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to regulation."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly said in recent days that her agency has no plans to regulate farm dust or alter National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which set levels of acceptable dust.

Noem said while that sounds good, the risk remains that standards on coarse particulate matter, or dust, could be regulated.

"Even if we simply take the EPA administrator at her word today, there is nothing stopping her agency from further regulating farm dust tomorrow except this bill," she said.

Noem's office later issued a press release titled "Myth vs. Fact on EPA Regulating Farm Dust."

"Without legislation, an EPA proposal to retain the current standard could still be challenged in court and eventually modified, imposing greater burdens and costs on rural America," the release stated.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has said Noem is focusing on a "non-issue."

Shortly after Noem's remarks, Ben Nesselhuf, chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, issued a press release criticizing her continued efforts on the matter.

"Congresswoman Kristi Noem is trying to create solutions for problems that don't exist," Nesselhuf said. "She can kick up an imagined dust storm over this non-issue, but she should focus on real problems like job creation instead of imagined problems like dust regulation."

Joshua Shields, Noem's communications director, said she feels the bill has a chance to become law.

"The Energy and Commerce Committee needs to approve the bill next, then floor action," Shields said in an e-mail response to The Daily Republic. "Right now the majority leader is saying that he intends to bring the bill to the floor this winter.

"With over 100 bipartisan cosponsors on the House bill and a bipartisan coalition supporting the Senate bill as well, I would imagine the bill has a good chance of passing both chambers," Shields continued. "If the president were serious in his Wall Street Journal op-ed on January 18th about his efforts to 'root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb,' then he should sign this bill into law."