There are plenty of actual, real-world problems Congress can and should be working on right now. Unfortunately, House Republicans have decided to invest time in imaginary problems.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider a bill by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from further regulating rural dust.

The Farm Dust Prevention Act of 2011 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a 33-16 vote.

The bill would exclude farm dust that is regulated at the state or local level from federal standards.

The point of the House legislation is to restrict the EPA’s ability “to regulate naturally occurring dust,” and in GOP circles, this has become a fairly big deal. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently vowed to “stop excessive federal regulations” of farm dust; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said one of the top goals of his caucus is “overturning the EPA’s proposed regulations” on farm dust; Mitt Romney has gotten in on the game; and it even came up in a recent debate for presidential candidates.

There’s just one small problem: Republicans made this up. They’re working on a bill to stop a “proposed regulation” that hasn’t, in reality, been proposed. As Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) tried to explain to his collegaues, “We might as well tell EPA not to regulate fairy dust.”

As Tim Noah explained this week, “It’s political bullshit. There is no pending farm-dust regulation. What there is, is an attempt by Republicans to persuade everybody that there is a pending farm-dust regulation so they can pass a new law exempting the agricultural industry … from an existing clean-air regulation that hardly ever affects farms (but, when it does, addresses a legitimate health issue).”

In fact, it’s not just the House. A related bill is pending in the Senate, and it has 26 co-sponsors — including two Democrats whose constituents have been convinced that the threat is real and are demanding action.

A vote on the House floor may come as early as tomorrow.

I’m beginning to think Congress’ 9% approval rating is far too high.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.