Wednesday, October 26, 2011

House Hearing On The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act

Oct 25: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), held a hearing to discuss legislation to provide "much-needed regulatory certainty to rural America." According to a release from Chairman Whitfield, H.R.1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, will prevent EPA from changing its current standard for coarse particulate matter, commonly referred to as dust, for one year from enactment. The bill also provides flexibility for state, local, or tribal regulation of "nuisance dust," generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving, and other activities typically conducted in rural areas.
    Witnesses included: Reps Kristi Noem and Robert Hurt; Gina McCarthy, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation; and representatives from: National Cattlemen's Beef Association; American Farm Bureau Federation; National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association; Holland & Knight (on behalf of: Coarse Particulate Matter Coalition); Columbia University; Brown University; and Natural Resources Defense Council.

    In response to growing concerns on this issue in the agriculture community, on October 14, in a letter to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson indicated she would not recommend any change in the PM10 particulate matter standards of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Former USDA Director under President Bush and now U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) issued a lengthy release applauding the EPA announcement which he said now means that the Agency will not be regulating farm dust. He said he will not continue to pursue his farm dust legislation because the announcement provides clarity to ambiguous and sometimes conflicting comments previously made by the Agency [See WIMS 10/19/11].

    At the hearing, EPA's Gina McCarthy reiterated Administrator Jackson's commitment and said, "This existing standard has been in effect since 1987. I am hopeful that this announcement ends the myth that the Agency has plans to tighten regulation of 'farm dust.' Given the Administrator's announcement, this bill is no longer necessary to produce its stated result -- to prevent the tightening of the coarse particle standard. Additionally, it is crucial for this Committee to note that this bill does far more than prohibit EPA from revising the coarse particle standard, and could roll back basic Clean Air Act protections and adversely affect public health in urban, suburban and rural areas." 

    While EPA's action satisfied some members, other are not convinced. H.R.1633, is co-sponsored by over 100 Republicans and Democrats. Two of the bill's primary sponsors, Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Robert Hurt (R-VA), testified about the need for their legislation to provide "immediate relief to America's farmers and ranchers." Representatives Noem said, "My bill is a bipartisan approach to ending the EPA'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. One of the most overwhelming concerns I hear about from farmers and ranchers back home is the overbearing regulations coming out of EPA, including the regulation of farm dust. Their concern is not unwarranted. We need to put an end to regulation of farm dust and prevent its expansion in the future. Regulation of farm dust is a problem today and will only cause more of an issue as the EPA continues to have opportunities to make more stringent standards in the future."

    Representative Whitfield acknowledged in his release that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently announced plans to propose retaining the current standard for coarse particulate matter, but said "the agricultural community remains concerned that the standard could change during the rulemaking process or as a result of future court challenges. In addition, witnesses noted that without legislation, EPA would retain the authority to modify the standard and increase the costs and burdens of farm dust regulation in the future."

    Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said, "The last thing our struggling economy needs is new costs and regulatory burdens on farmers and small business in rural America. They already face indirect consequences from EPA's costly regulatory agenda, and now they are rightfully concerned about the threat of direct regulation on their operations. This is a common-sense approach that protects the interests of our vital rural economy, and I commend our colleagues for putting their ideas on the table. If EPA is serious that it does not intend to regulate farm dust, it should embrace this legislation."

    Full Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) said in a statement, "We are going to hear today that we must pass H.R.1633 to stop EPA from regulating farming. This isn't just nonsense. It's pure fantasy. EPA does not regulate farming practices to reduce dust and has expressed no intention of doing so in the future. EPA has set standards for the levels of coarse particulate matter in the ambient air because there is scientific evidence that this pollution causes serious health effects. Coarse particulate matter, or PM10, is produced by uncontrolled burning of coal and oil, construction and demolition activities, mining, and unpaved roads, as well as farm activities. Once EPA sets the standards for ambient levels of air pollution, it is up to the states and localities to determine how to meet them. It is the states and localities, not EPA, that decide which sources must reduce pollution and by how much. EPA set the current PM10 standards in 1987, during the Reagan Administration. . ."

    Access a release from Rep. Whitfield (click here). Access the Republican hearing website for links to all testimony, background, statements (click here). Access the Democratic hearing website for links to all testimony, statements and webcast highlights (click here). [#Air]