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H.R. 1633, So-Called "Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act"

On December 8th, the House passed another Republican bill (H.R. 1633, the so-called 'Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act') attacking the Clean Air Act. The bill creates a new broadly-defined category of particle pollution - naming it 'nuisance dust' - and exempts it from the entire Clean Air Act.  The bill's definition is so broad that it would have the effect of exempting from the Clean Air Act particle pollution from such activities as open-pit mines, gravel mines, smelters, and coal-processing facilities.  The bill also prohibits EPA from tightening its air quality standards for 'coarse particles' (and possibly for 'fine particles' as well) for at least one year from the date of enactment, despite EPA's announcement in October that it would propose no change in the coarse particle standards. The bill is totally unnecessary--the EPA does not regulate 'farm dust' and has no intent to do so. 

  • This bill is based on a myth that EPA is going to tighten its air quality standards for “coarse particles.”  The bill's sponsors have argued that a tighter standard could lead to regulation of dust from farming activities.
  • Unbelievably, House Republicans are now still pursuing this bill even though, on October 14, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent a letter to Congress stating unequivocally that she will not propose to make any changes in the “coarse particle” standards.    
  • After seeing the letter from EPA, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), the sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate (S. 1528), announced that he would not pursue action on his bill.  Johanns stated, “EPA has finally provided what I've been asking for all along: unequivocal assurance that it won't attempt to regulate farm dust.” 
  • Local papers in South Dakota have been highly critical of Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), the House bill's sponsor, for continuing to pursue the bill.  For example, the Sioux Falls Argue Leader wrote, “it's disappointing to see (the bill's author) continue her fight against a made-up problem like the potential for farm dust regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

This bill goes far beyond its stated intent by including dangerous provisions that undermine critical Clean Air Act protections that have been in place for decades - the ability to protect the public from fine and coarse particle pollution and toxic air pollution. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to fine and coarse particles is damaging to human health.  This exposure can cause premature death, aggravated asthma attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, and heart attacks.  In addition, particles often consist of or are contaminated with toxic substances that cause cancer, brain damage, and other devastating health effects.
 
The bill's dangerous provisions create a new broadly-defined category of particle pollution - “nuisance dust” - and exempts it from the entire Clean Air Act, except under narrow circumstances.  The bill's definition is so broad it would have the effect of exempting from the Clean Air Act particle pollution from such activities as open-pit mines, gravel mines, smelters, and coal-processing facilities. The bill's dangerous provisions could also block EPA from continuing to protect the public from deadly fine particles -- EPA has stated that current technology cannot distinguish between fine particles that are “nuisance dust” (which this bill prohibits EPA from regulating) and other fine particles.

The White House has threatened a veto of the bill.

Key provisions:

The Bill Includes Unnecessary Provisions Prohibiting EPA from Tightening Its Coarse Particle Standards

  • The bill's sponsors justify H.R. 1633 based on false claims that EPA is planning to tighten its National Ambient Air Quality Standard for coarse particles, which was set in 1987 by the Reagan Administration.
  • The bill's sponsors argue that a tighter standard could lead to regulation of dust from farming activities.
  • However, on October 14, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress that she plans no changes to this air quality standard for coarse particles. 

The Bill Creates A New Category of Particle Pollution - “Nuisance Dust” - and Exempts It from the Clean Air Act, Resulting In Exempting Mining, Smelting and Other Industrial Activities from Air Pollution Regulation

  • The main impact of the bill is not to block the regulation of “farm dust,” which EPA says it will not regulate, but to exempt many other activities from regulation, including industrial mining operations. 
  • The bill creates a new category of particle pollution - naming it “nuisance dust” - and exempts it from the entire Clean Air Act, except under narrow circumstances. 
  • The bill defines “nuisance dust” broadly to include both coarse and fine particles from sources that have nothing to do with farming, including particulate matter from “earth moving,” which includes open-pit mines and gravel mines, and particulate matter from “activities typically conducted in rural areas,” which covers industrial operations such as smelters, cement kilns, and coal-processing facilities.  

The Bill Could Have Effect of Blocking EPA from Continuing to Protect the Public from Deadly Fine Particles

  • The bill also raises serious questions about EPA's continued ability to regulate fine particles that can cause premature death, aggravated asthma attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, and heart attacks.
  • This is because the bill's exemption of “nuisance dust” would require EPA's compliance monitors to distinguish between fine particles that are nuisance dust and other fine particles.
  • EPA says this is not possible with current technology, so the bill's provisions jeopardize EPA's ability to continue to regulate pollution from deadly fine particles.

Finally, The Bill Prohibits EPA Regulation of “Nuisance Dust” Where State or Local Regulation Exists, But Sets No Minimum Public Health Standards for State Regulations

  • The bill prohibits EPA from taking action to address “nuisance dust” in an area if any state or local regulation applies.
  • However, the bill includes no requirement that such state or local regulation achieve any degree of health protection for the public at large or for sensitive populations such as children and the elderly.
  • This would set air quality protection back decades to a time when states “raced to the bottom” to set the loosest standards.
  • Minimum federal standards are necessary to afford a basic level of clean air to all Americans.