Speaking at a South Carolina town hall today, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich falsely claimed Environmental Protection Agency is trying to regulate agricultural dust. Calling the EPA a collection of “left-wingers trying to use the power of the government to reshape the whole economy on their terms,” Gingrich spun a tale of EPA bureaucrats going after Iowa farmers for the dust kicked up on dirt roads:
You have these people from the EPA saying, “You don’t understand! This is particulate matter! Here it is on page whatever of the Clean Air Act!“
“I can’t make these things up,” Gingrich concluded.
In reality, agricultural dust pollution is no joking matter. The Bush administration issued emissions monitoring guidelines for dust kicked up from poorly maintained rural roads. Industrial agribusiness in California puts up tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter every year. Regulations on particulate matter have been issued under the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations. The “dust” Gingrich jokes about has been found to cause hospital admissions for heart disease, hospital admissions and doctors’ visits for respiratory diseases, increased respiratory symptoms in children, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
Despite the health threat from the tons of toxic dust produced by industrial agribusiness, there are no federal regulations protecting agricultural workers. Only two states, California and Arizona, have rules on farm dust. Although “farm dust regulation” is a popular Republican talking point, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly affirmed that her agency has no plans to issue a farm dust rule.