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Biden’s Ratcheting of Federal Air Regs Could End California Farming



A Biden administration effort to significantly tighten air quality standards could decimate California farming, says Manuel Cunha. (Shutterstock)
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California feeds the nation. That is not an exaggeration.

Our state produces more than one-third of our nation’s vegetables and three-quarters of its fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. All told, we produce more than 400 commodities that fuel our state’s and country’s prosperity.

Manuel Cunha, Jr.


The Nisei Farmers League is proud to be a vital contributor to California agriculture. From our humble beginnings in 1971 until now, our growers and farmworkers over the years, even during COVID continued and have committed themselves to producing the  highest quality crops that feed the world. We’re also keenly aware of how the measures we implement to ensure our crops are safely grown and harvested can affect the environment around us. Agricultural producers are among the most educated – whether formally through schooling or informally through working the land – on environmental stewardship. We strive for a balance that both protects our crops and livestock and the environment.

Our members are among the most passionate about conservation and environmental protection; however, there is a stark difference between smart regulations and unnecessary ones, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently hard at work on a proposal that falls squarely in the latter category.

Biden Administration Proposal is Damaging

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards undergo regular reviews on a schedule that gives growers a measure of certainty in how we must adjust our operations to meet revisions. But the Biden administration, displeased with the previous administration’s decision to leave the standard for particulate matter (PM) 2.5 unchanged, is moving up the review schedule and proposing to significantly tighten the regulations on PM2.5. This common pollutant can result from various agricultural activities from livestock production to soil dust getting kicked up through everyday tilling and harvesting processes.

Even though no changes were made to the rule in 2020, we know that many growers are still making adjustments to ensure compliance with current standards. Those adjustments simply cannot happen overnight. We might have to purchase new equipment, install new production systems, or fund new products to use in our fields. These are costly endeavors that can reduce already tight margins to a level that is unsustainable for some growers.

Agriculture Contributes Billions to Economy

Agriculture contributes billions of dollars to California’s economy. In 2021, our farms and ranches combined for $51.1 billion in cash receipts for our products and exports totaled $22.5 billion.

We also employ hundreds of thousands of workers, directly and indirectly. Last year, there were more than 420,000 people working in agriculture throughout the state. Fruit and nut growers alone employed 92,200 people, vegetable and melon farming employed about 30,000 people, and 227,400 people worked in support activities for crop and animal production. The agricultural sector comprised approximately 3 percent of the state’s GDP and produced roughly $25 billion in ag exports each year.

Enacting more stringent PM2.5 regulations diminishes our growers’ output, threatens jobs, and restricts our economic contributions. The only way to achieve EPA’s aspirational targets would be to reduce or cease farming in California and send production offshore to other countries that do not have the same environmental we do in the U.S. The EPA must not proceed with this unnecessary revision that would make food more expensive and cost jobs just as we’re starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Author

Manuel Cunha, Jr. is president of the Nisei Farmers League, which represents growers, packers, processors and their employees on a variety of issues such as water, immigration and universal healthcare at both the state and federal level.

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