Feds could regulate greenhouse gas emissions

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 2, 2008
Feds could regulate greenhouse gas emissions

—Clean Air Act regulations could create a new livestock tax for producers.

In mid-summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which could cripple the livestock industry. The agency is seeking public comment on whether or not it is appropriate to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Clean Air Act and recently, EPA extended the comment period for the regulations.

The same laws that are used to control emissions for motor vehicles and factories could be used to regulate livestock producers’ emissions of methane and carbon dioxide under the rules after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. In order for the new regulations to go into effect, the agency must first determine that greenhouse gasses are endangering public health and safety before they can be classified as a “pollutant.”

Once that step is completed, the government then gains regulatory authority over their emissions as part of the Clean Air Act. “The problem with this approach is that once an endangerment finding is made, other provisions of the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered, creating much broader, costly regulation of other sectors of the economy, including agriculture,” American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) officials stated last week. “Once an endangerment finding is made, Title V of the Clean Air Act requires that any entity with the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of a regulated pollutant must obtain a permit in order to continue to operate.”

According to AFBF findings, the threshold set forward by EPA could capture hundreds of thousands of new entities, forcing schools, apartment buildings and livestock producers to comply with emissions standards under the new regulations.

“The vast majority of livestock operations would easily meet the 100-ton threshold and fall under regulation,” AFBF officials said. The government studies generated by USDA on the matter determined that dairy operations of more than 25 head or beef operations with 50 head or more would fall under the new EPA regulations. Hog operations with 200 or more animals would also be regulated by the new requirements.

Those numbers would capture more than 99 percent of all U.S. dairies and about 90 percent of beef producers, according to US- DA calculations.

For producers who produce greenhouse gasses above the 100-ton per year limit, a permit would be required, which would create additional costs or taxes on producers over a set size. Estimates of the fees would be equal to approximately $175 per dairy animal, $87.50 per beef animal, and $20 per hog grown in a commercial facility.

The proposal is essentially a tax on livestock operations, said Dave Wright, president of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska.

“Most livestock and dairy farmers would not be able to pass along this tax,” Wright said. “The proposal would put producers out of business and would certainly result in much higher consumer costs for beef, milk, pork, and milk products.”

According to AFBF estimates, crop production emits nitrous oxide from fertilizer and methane from rice production. Fields that emit 100 tons of carbon would also be subject to permitting requirements.

Any farm with 500 acres of corn, 250 acres of soybeans, 350 acres of potatoes, or only 35 acres of rice would be forced to obtain Clean Air Act permits.

The Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking is simply the first step in the regulatory process and producers still have time to impact the outcome of this new and potentially devastating regulation. Industry officials from all segments of agriculture are urging producers to submit their comments on the matter as part of an effort to stop the new rules from being implemented. Comments may be submitted to EPA officials directly at www.regulation.gov. Producers can fax comments to 202/566-97755, or send them by mail to: Air and Radiation Docket and Information Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 2822T, 200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460. — John Robinson, WLJ