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Clearing The Air

Scare Tactics Plant Farmers In Middle of Clean Air Fight But Smokestacks––Not Plowing––Are The Main Problem

Thursday, June 12, 1997

Clearing The Air

Scare Tactics Plant Farmers In Middle of Clean Air Fight But Smokestacks––Not Plowing––Are The Main Problem

View and Download the report here: Clearing the Air

Although farming contributes little to the problem of airborne toxic particles, farmers suddenly find themselves in the middle of a heated battle over an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to improve air quality by reducing emissions from electric utilities, chemical plants and oil companies.

Within recent weeks a coalition of farm and agribusiness groups, while affirming their support for clean air, has stepped forward in opposition to the EPA proposal. Two dozen legislators on the House Agriculture Committee have expressed concern about the air rule’s potential impacts on agriculture in a letter to EPA Administrator Browner. Other farm policy leaders have expressed reservations or opposition to EPA’s air rule in statements to the media or during congressional deliberations. Issues have also been raised by USDA, and by the Department’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force.

But by far the most dramatic and visible link between farming and the clean air debate has been a series of newspaper and radio advertisements in farm–belt states. The advertising blitz, produced and paid for by a nonfarm corporate front group called “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” claims that the EPA has identified agriculture as a “significant cause” of fine particle air pollution. As a consequence, the ads warn, farmers may face “restrictions on when, where and how corn, wheat, beef and chicken [sic] are raised.”

Previous CSE advertisements attacked EPA’s clean air rule by claiming it would restrict backyard barbecues, lawnmowers and fireworks displays. These ads have been discredited by impartial observers, rejected by at least one media outlet, and in one case withdrawn by CSE itself ––after the scientist who was the “source” for the allegation that EPA would restrict fireworks displays told a reporter that his warning was “a joke.” CSE’s ads about the impact of the air rule on farming also distort the issue.

This policy memorandum reviews the controversy over EPA’s air rule and farming and reaches the following conclusions.

  • Particulate air pollution is overwhelmingly a problem of urban America, not rural America.
  • Farming does not cause the particulate air pollution that is shortening the lives of tens of thousands of Americans who live in urban areas. Smokestack pollution from heavy industry and power plants, and (in some areas) motor vehicles are the main cause.
  • Existing, voluntary federal conservation programs for farmers are adequate to deal with agriculture’s comparatively minor share of fine particle air emissions.
  • The advertising campaign by Citizens for a Sound Economy distorts EPA’s assessment of agriculture’s role in particulate air pollution and grossly exaggerates the impact of the agency’s proposed rule on farming and farmers.
  • EWG, in agreement with a number of critics of EPA’s emissions inventory, urges the agency to make clear that agriculture is a minor contributor to fine particle pollution problems.

In response to concerns expressed by the Agriculture Department, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture interests, EPA Administrator Carol Browner clarified the agency’s position on the proposed clean air rules and their impact on farmers in a June 5, 1997 letter to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman:

“I want to make it clear that agriculture would not be the target of EPA control strategies designed to attain these new standards,” Browner said [emphasis in original]. Summarizing the rule’s impact on agriculture, she stated that “agricultural sources are a very small part of the overall PM 2.5 [fine particle] problem and will actually benefit from a tightened ozone standard.”

View and Download the report here: Clearing the Air

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