This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Farmers and miners wouldn't be bothered by new "nuisance dust" regulations anytime soon if the U.S. Senate goes along with a bill passed Thursday by the House.
Utah's three representatives supported the "Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act," which passed by a convincing 268 to 150 in the GOP-dominated House, but likely faces tougher going in the Senate, controlled by Democrats.
Still, the House action prompted an outcry from environmentalists and their representatives in Congress. Some say the bill would stymie the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ability to protect public health from dust pollution. On the House floor, Rep. Henry Waxman singled out Kennecott Utah Copper as he criticized Republicans for refusing to limit the bill to agriculture and undercutting the EPA's ability to protect health.
"The company's mining activities are the single largest source of particulate pollution in Utah and a big reason why the 1 million residents of Salt Lake County breathe unhealthy air," the California Democrat said.
"This bill would exempt all particulate matter pollution from the Kennecott mine and all other mines from the entire Clean Air Act," Waxman added. "Let's be honest, the reason industrial mining operations are pushing this bill has nothing to do with protecting family farms."
The bill would bar the EPA, which has been considering a coarse particulates standard, from making any changes for at least a year. It also limits the agency's ability to impose standards in the future.
The measure focuses on coarse dust, including soil kicked up by cattle and truck tires not the microscopic soot that sometimes turns the winter air brown in northern Utah's valleys.
Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jim Matheson defended the measure as a common-sense protection for agriculture.
Bishop said mining and agricultural dust is already regulated enough.
"The legislation passed in the House does not exempt any type of facility from environmental regulation," the Brigham City Republican added. "It specifically exempts rural dust from costly, unnecessary and often redundant federal regulation."
Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said the bill won't affect how EPA regulates pollution from Kennecott's smelter and power plant stacks since combustion particulates are not included in what the bill describes as nuisance dust.
"Jim's vote was in response to a lot of calls, letters and emails from the agriculture industry," she said.
Kennecott's Chris Kaiser downplayed his company's role in lobbying for the bill as part of a coalition. He also called Waxman's remarks "an overstatement."
"Everything we do has to go through the Clean Air Act," Kaiser said.
Bill Riess, an expert on particulates for the Utah Division of Air Quality, noted the bill would protect the mining and agriculture industries in the event that the EPA someday changes limits on coarse particulates, which the bill defines as particles larger than 2.5 micrometers. Such changes are expected to be harsh for industry in the dusty West, he noted.
But, even if the bill is enacted, he doubts it will change how Utah handles particulates, including the dust from Kennecott's tailings pile.
"Right now," he said, "dust from those types of sources is already regulated."
The state has been at odds with the EPA for years over the form of particulate pollution called PM-10, which includes coarse particulates. At the heart of their quarrel is dust from Kennecott during periodic wind storms.
Brian Moench, a founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, called the bill's passage "an outrage" and deplored Kennecott's role in it.
"It's a sleight-of-hand trick to eviscerate EPA's ability to regulate pollution," he said. Kennecott "should be resoundingly condemned" for backing the bill.
Moench's group plans to file suit against Kennecott within two weeks over the company's compliance with federal PM-10 regulations.