Evaluating the Environmental Effects of Agricultural Policy: The Soil Bank, the CRP, and Airborne Particulate Concentrations
Ringquist, Evan J., Lee, Jeffrey A., Ervin, R. Terry, Policy Studies Journal
Barry Commoner's first law of ecology, "everything is connected to everything else" (Commoner 1972), may also be one of the fundamental laws of public policy. Nearly 25 years of experience with traditional environmental regulations has taught us that protecting and improving environmental quality requires more than simply regulating the smokestacks and effluent pipes of industry. The consequences of personal and policy decisions far removed from the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) loom increasingly large in environmental protection. For example, crossmedia effects stemming from land use decisions now account for two-thirds of the nation's water pollution and a significant amount of air pollution (Portney, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1991). In addition, the fastest-growing component of environmental protection expenditures is now attributable to federal agencies other than the EPA (e.g., the Departments of Defense and Energy), as these agencies attempt to mitigate the environmental consequences of previous policy decisions (Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, 1991).
Of those policy areas having significant environmental consequences, the effects of agricultural policy are among the most substantial. Recognizing this, policymakers included an array of conservation provisions in the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills, most notably the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). While scholars have studied closely the consequences the CRP has had on water quality (Blackburn, Newman, & Sood, 1991; Ribaudo, 1989; Ribaudo, Piper, Schaible, Langner, & Colacicco, 1989; Weitman, 1994), rural economies (Berlinger & Knapp, 1991; Gustarson, 1994), and government expenditures (Berardi, 1987; Halbach, Runge, & Larson, 1987; Kozloff & Wang, 1992; Young, 1994; Young, Adams, & Willcott, 1994), almost no attention has been paid to the effect this agricultural program has had on air quality. If upcoming revisions to the Farm Bill amend the CRP with an eye toward environmental benefits, this policy debate should include consideration of all environmental effects of the program.
The manuscript proceeds in five stages. First, we recap the brief literature on the environmental outcomes of pollution control policy. Second, we provide a bit of background on the problem of agricultural air pollution - its causes, distribution, and consequences - paying special attention to wind erosion. Third, we describe the major environmental protection elements of agricultural policy over the past 50 years - the Soil Bank program and the Conservation Reserve Program. Fourth, we develop and operationalize a multivariate transfer function model to evaluate the effects that climatic, meteorological, and policy factors have had on the concentration of atmospheric particulates in the Southern High Plains region of the United States. We end with a set of observations regarding the importance of our findings for both the literature on policy outcomes and the debate over extending the Conservation Reserve Program in upcoming agricultural legislation.
Public Policy and Air Quality
Most of the literature in environmental policy focuses on describing the politics behind the adoption and/or implementation of pollution control programs, or evaluates the relative costs and benefits of these programs. We find few examples in the literature that evaluate the environmental consequences (i.e., policy outcomes) of efforts at pollution control. Of those scholars who have examined this topic empirically, most have concluded that efforts at pollution control in general, and air pollution control in particular, have been ineffective at reducing the emission of pollutants or improving environmental quality (Broder, n.d.; Crandall, 1983; Hanf, 1982; MacAvoy, 1979, 1987; Yandle, 1989: but see Magat & Viscusi, 1990).
On the other hand, a small but growing body of research concludes that air quality regulations have reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution (Knoepfel & Weidner, 1982; Ringquist, 1993; White, 1982). Despite these more positive findings, however, this same research concludes that pollution control expenditures and strong state regulatory programs generally have been ineffective at reducing atmospheric particulate concentrations (Broder, n.d.; Ringquist, 1995). Particulates are especially difficult to control with pollution control regulations, since there are many "natural" or "uncontrollable" sources of this pollutant - most significantly, wind erosion and agricultural burning. In many states, these "natural" sources outweigh industrial contributions to particulate pollution (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1988).
Causes, Effects, and Distribution of Agricultural Air Pollution
Causes of Agricultural Air Pollution
The largest source of the "naturally" occurring particulates discussed above is agriculture, and within agriculture the single largest source of particulate contamination is wind erosion. The common perception is that wind and drought are the most important causal factors behind wind erosion, but most research in geography has found only weak statistical connections between these meteorological conditions and the severity and/or frequency of wind erosion (see Lee, Wigner, & Gregory, 1993, for a good review). Most soil erosion is episodic, occurring during windstorms, rainstorms, and floods, but human agricultural practices work in concert with these natural forces to determine the severity of erosion (Larson, Pierce, & Dowdy, 1987). Beyond simply contributing to the effect of these natural forces, however, human activity is the number-one factor leading to soil erosion (Harlin & Berardi, 1987; Worster, 1979).
The primary motivational force behind human activities leading to soil erosion may be financial. As agricultural prices and/or the export market for United States commodities increase, producers bring marginal and more highly erodible land into production, leading to increased soil erosion. For example, as United States agricultural exports increased 250% from 1962 to 1982, the amount of land devoted to row cropping increased from 335 million acres to 391 million acres, with a corresponding increase in erosion (Moldenhauer, 1987). The market, however, is not the only institution affecting human behavior and soil erosion. Public policy affects behavior as well. Target prices, the Commodity Credit Corporation, farm income support programs based on total acreage, and the admonitions of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to plant "fencerow to fencerow" provided incentives to bring highly erodible land into production. In turn, these policies resulted in more soil erosion than would have occurred in a purely free market for agricultural goods (Berardi, 1987; Osteen, 1987).
Effects of Agricultural Air Pollution
While water erosion has declined over the past few decades, damage from wind erosion has become an increasingly serious problem (Pimental, Harvey, Resosudarmo, Sinclair, Kurz, McNair, Christ, Shpritz, Fitton, Saffouri, & Blair, 1995). Wind erosion leads to declining soil productivity, as soil depth, soil nutrients, and the ability of soil to retain water are all reduced.(1) Erosion also leads to the eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, decreases the storage capacity of reservoirs, and introduces toxic agricultural chemicals into lakes and streams. Moreover, agricultural air pollution has negative economic and human health effects. For example, a high percentage of agriculturally-derived atmospheric particulates are smaller than ten micrometers in diameter, and thus are especially dangerous (Robinson, 1936; Warn & Cox, 1951).(2)
Some effects of wind erosion are relatively easy to measure, but most of the environmental effects of windblown dust are synergistic with other environmental hazards. This means that, while the costs associated with catastrophic episodes of wind erosion are readily apparent (e.g., dust storms during the 1930s on the Great Plains were responsible for significant economic damage and marked increases in human morbidity and mortality; see Worster, 1979), the costs associated with chronic agricultural air pollution are difficult to isolate or quantify (Unger, 1977). Only recently have these costs of agricultural air pollution been made manifest. For …
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Publication information: Article title: Evaluating the Environmental Effects of Agricultural Policy: The Soil Bank, the CRP, and Airborne Particulate Concentrations. Contributors: Ringquist, Evan J. - Author, Lee, Jeffrey A. - Author, Ervin, R. Terry - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 23. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 1995. Page number: 519+. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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