WASHINGTON -- A bill to ban a farm dust regulation that the federal government has never proposed passed the House Thursday, sailing through easily on a party-line vote of 268 to 150.
The measure, dubbed the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, was purported by its lead sponsor, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from writing a rule that would require farmers to take onerous steps to control dust from their land.
But EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has said repeatedly that no such rule is in the works. What the EPA does do is review ambient air pollution standards every five years, as required by law, and make recommendations on whether or not to tighten standards.
"We have spent an entire day debating about a bill that does not address an existing problem," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).
"This entire session of Congress has felt to many of us like a trip into Alice's Wonderland," said DeGette. "To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad. ... You must be mad or you wouldn't have come here.' Sadly for the American people, H.R. 1633 simply underscores the 'madness' of this body right now."
Republicans countered that although no rule was proposed, they worried that someone might file a lawsuit someday to to regulate farm dust.
"We know that many of the environmental decisions in America today are made by individuals and groups that file lawsuits," said Rep. Ed. Whitfield (R-Ky.). "That's exactly what we're afraid is going to happen in this instance."
But Democrats also pointed out that the bill does not actually address "farm dust," instead defining something called "nuisance dust," which essentially is soot and other particulate matter. An early version of the bill would have allowed the inclusion of rural power plants and incinerators in the definition of sources of particulates exempt from regulation.
Language was added to leave out such sources, but the measure still would bar from regulation things like open pit mines and asbestos mines. An amendment that would have required mines to remain under regulation failed.
The measure is unlikely to move in the Senate, and Democrats complained it was a waste of time.
"Once again, House Republicans are wasting the Congress's time on a bill that has nothing to do with creating jobs or dealing with the pressing issues that confront us before the end of the year," siad House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. "This farm dust bill is merely a smoke screen for Republican inaction on legislation that is actually important and would have significant bearing on millions of Americans."