“The EPA has gone wild,” Cain said in a GOP debate in September. “The fact that they have a regulation that goes into effect January 1, 2012, to regulate dust says that they’ve gone too far.”
In a written statement, Jackson, the EPA administrator, defended her agency’s work as necessary to protect public health.
“Some in Washington are pushing misinformation about the cost and benefits of environmental protection,” she said. “But the truth is EPA works closely with a variety of stakeholders, including industry, to develop common-sense standards.”
But on Capitol Hill this year, Jackson would not give Republicans the answer they were looking for: no dust rule, never, guaranteed. She said she couldn’t give a definitive answer until a months-long administrative process was finished.
“We’re concerned about your health, but we also are pragmatic and practical people,” Jackson said in one hearing, addressing herself to the people of rural America. “And our standards and proposal will reflect that.”
It still wasn’t enough. In early October, Republicans demanded a vote on farm-dust rules in the Senate. That helped set off a fight that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) settled with a dramatic procedural move late at night. Finally, on Oct. 14, Jackson made it official. In a letter to senators, Jackson said the standards on coarse-particle pollution would not change.
But still, the fight went on. On Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted along party lines and approved Noem’s bill, 12 to 9. The EPA has said that the bill — which now needs approval from the full committee and the entire House — could actually exempt a range of rural polluters from regulations.
Even if the bill passes the House, it is unlikely to succeed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she will use her power to fight a dust bill.
Before Thursday’s vote, several Democrats ridiculed the bill. Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) called it “a real piece of legislation that solves an imaginary problem.” Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) said, “We might as well tell EPA not to regulate fairy dust.”
But Republicans on the subcommittee defended the bill, saying it would prevent the EPA from changing its mind about farm dust. It would also, they said, dampen the threat that an environmental group could force the EPA to crack down on farm dust by filing a lawsuit.
“If they chose — unilaterally — not to enforce, they’re only one lawsuit away” from changing that decision, said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) “We have to make it clear that farm dust is exempt. And that’s what we’re doing here.”