Washington, DC, June 12--Rural areas are largely unaffected by toxic airborne particle pollution that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks to reduce in order to save thousands of lives in major urban areas, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Although farming contributes little to the particulate pollution that affects many U.S. cities, farmers suddenly find themselves in the middle of the heated political battle over the EPA proposal to improve air quality by reducing emissions from electric utilities, chemical plants and oil companies.
"If it were a matter of science, farmers wouldn't be in this fight," said EWG president Ken Cook, author of the study, entitled Clearing the Air. "Unfortunately, it's been a matter of scare tactics by major industrial polluters," Cook said.
Cook said that the EWG review was prompted by anti-clean air advertisements aimed at farmers. "We contacted Farm Bureau staff, and what they told us made sense. We support the EPA proposal, but as our research progressed, we found ourselves agreeing with the Farm Bureau that the agency should make clear that farming is not the cause of the particulate pollution problem that the EPA is aiming to reduce," Cook said.
"EWG has never been shy about calling attention to environmental problems that are associated with agriculture," Cook added. "In this case our research showed that the problem lies elsewhere," he said.
The EWG study concludes that the primary link between farming and EPA's clean air proposal "is a blitz of misleading radio and newspaper advertisements in farm-belt states that aims to scare farmers into thinking they are the target of EPA's clean air proposal which is not true." Cook added that the ads "are produced and paid for by a corporate front group that calls itself 'Citizens for a Sound Economy,' a group with no connection to farmers but plenty of links to big business polluters."
EWG's report notes that previous ads produced by CSE falsely warned that EPA might use the rules to ban backyard barbecues, lawnmowers and fireworks on the 4th of July.
"CSE's earlier anti-clean air ads have proven to be ludicrously exaggerated - or outright false - and that is the case with their 'Farmers as Polluters' ads. This is a corporate front group that is trying to make farmers the pawns in a fight to clean up power plants, steel mills, chemical refineries and the other smokestack polluters - the real cause of the particulate problem," Cook said.
In a letter to members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, Cook said that farm groups and policy makers "were right to raise substantive questions about the source of toxic airborne particles, to make sure that farming would not be inappropriately targeted by EPA's proposal." He noted that EPA Administrator Carol Browner's June 5 letter to Agriculture Secretary Glickman "makes clear that agriculture should not and will not be the focus of EPA control strategies for particulate air pollution, a view that EWG supports."
EWG, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., is a project of The Tides Center.