The House easily passed legislation on Thursday that would ban the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing stricter rules on so-called “farm dust.”
The bill, which passed 268-150, is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate as a stand-alone measure. But it could be one of the few environmental riders that makes it into an omnibus spending package, because a companion Senate bill has support from two key Democrats in tough reelection fights, Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in October that she is not seeking to tighten regulations on farm dust — the term commonly used to describe soot, dust, and particulate matter — for at least five years. Republicans and some farm-state Democrats in both chambers want to make sure Jackson sticks to her word.
“I understand that,” Nelson said recently of Jackson’s commitment not to regulate farm dust for five years. “It’s sort of a belt and suspenders. This way, they can’t.”
The White House issued a scathing veto threat on the bill on Wednesday, calling it “ambiguously written.” The Statement of Administration Policy goes on to say the measure “addresses a problem that does not exist” and “would create high levels of regulatory uncertainty regarding emission-control requirements that have been in place for years.”
The bill would also prevent EPA regulation of a particular type of farm dust, which the bill calls “nuisance dust,” kicked up by dirt roads and agricultural activities. The administration criticized that term as “imprecise and scientifically-undefined.”
Republicans pushing the bill cite widespread support from farm and rural organizations. “We have 2.2 million farms in America, employing 1.8 million people, providing 5 percent of this nation’s exports,” said House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., on the House floor on Thursday before the vote. “We need to do everything possible to make it easy for them to do business and still protect the economy.”
Measures in both chambers have outsized political influence. EPA’s other clean-air rules, such as those aiming to slash mercury pollution from power plants, will have bigger impacts on both the economy and public health. But the idea of regulating farm dust tugs at the heartstrings — and pocketbooks — of rural voters in key battleground states. This is another reason why the Obama administration and Democrats may not object to adding the measure to a spending bill—its substantive impact on the economy and public health is comparatively minor.