Aspen area congressman defends Farm Dust bill; Democrats claim act steeped in fantasy

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenDecember 16, 2011

As the House prepared to pass the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act last week, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette must've imagined herself wearing a blue knee-length dress with a white pinafore overtop.

Alice in Wonderland's 'mad' tea party.

“This entire session of Congress has felt to many of us like a trip into Alice’s Wonderland,” the eight-term Democrat from Colorado said Thursday. “While our nation struggles with a devastating economy … we do nothing about jobs or getting America back to work; instead we repeatedly fall down the rabbit hole of extreme legislation, and now with this so-called 'Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act,' it would seem we’re having tea with the Cheshire Cat. 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.'”

The fact that the Environmental Protection Agency maintains it has no plans to regulate farm dust is only partially what left DeGette challenging the sanity of her colleagues at a time when their approval rating lags behind both President Nixon during Watergate and Paris Hilton circa 2005. She was also tripping out that they refused to limit the scope of H.R. 1633 to agriculture, as its title implies.

U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn — Coloradans who co-sponsored the bill — and their Republican cohorts shot down several amendments that would have exempted farm dust from the Clean Air Act but would have ensured the EPA can regulate coarse particulate matter from the mining and extraction industries, or dust that contains arsenic or other heavy metals, or dust that substantially harms public health.

DeGette floated a “motion to recommit” that sought to refer the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act back to committee so the legislation would clearly state that the EPA could still be able to regulate dangerous asbestos, lead and cadmium emissions but the GOP-led House rejected that too.

Diana DeGette

“What would happen if we exempted asbestos from the Clean Air Act? Unfortunately, we already know,” DeGette said. “To see the realities of asbestos – a natural material – we could simply ask the families of Libby, Montana. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby, Montana, after decades of asbestos exposure from local mines. Even though the Libby vermiculite asbestos mine closed in 1990, the EPA believes that current conditions continue to present significant ongoing threats to public health. There remain significantly higher rates of asbestos-related disease in Libby compared with the national average. Too bad that mine managers told their workers that the dust they inhaled daily was just ‘nuisance dust’ and would have no permanent effects.”

Republicans defended the legislation.

“While our nation’s farmers are expected to continue meeting the needs of a growing population, unnecessary regulations that place increased burdens on American agriculture are making production more costly and challenging — hurting jobs and small businesses,” Tipton said in a prepared statement. “I urge the Senate to quickly send this common sense pro-jobs bill to the President.”

Many Democrats counter the bill is a solution in search of a problem. A white rabbit.

“The truth is that the EPA doesn’t currently regulate farm dust. This bill would prevent a regulation that doesn’t actually exist, from overseeing something undefined,” DeGette told the House. “... Sadly for the American people, H.R. 1633 simply underscores the 'madness' of this body right now.”

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