Roll Call
By Marcie Williams
Special to Roll Call
June 16, 2009

www.rollcall.com

Last year’s rumors that the Environmental Protection Agency was pursuing a tax on methane “emissions” from U.S. livestock generated a strong outcry among many members of our nation’s agricultural community. While concerns over this direct “cow tax” turned out to be premature, the EPA is now pursuing real regulations that could levy damaging consequences on domestic farmers and ranchers.

The EPA’s proposed ruling that greenhouse gas emissions should be regulated under the Clean Air Act as a threat to public health would have a severe impact on all sectors of the American economy, including our heartland: the U.S. agricultural industry.

Since methane, a natural byproduct of cattle and other farm animals, is considered a greenhouse gas, this proposed finding would expose America’s ranchers to unprecedented legal liability. Though no longer faced with a direct tax on bovine, local farms and small businesses would likely still suffer a hit to their livelihood, incurring steep costs for assessment and preparation for the threat of livestock litigation. Moreover, farmers would also be liable for crop production emissions such as nitrous oxide from fertilizer, methane from rice production and auto emissions from tractor plowing.

This kind of ruinous litigation won’t be aimed at just large commercial operations. In fact, federal researchers from the Department of Agriculture estimate that:

Even very small agricultural operations would meet a 100-tons-per-year emissions threshold. For example, dairy facilities with more than 25 cows, beef cattle operations of more than 50 cattle, swine operations with more than 200 hogs, and farms with more than 500 acres of corn may need to get a Title V permit.

Should the EPA rule that greenhouse gas emissions are a health hazard, more than just America’s aggies would be affected. Other segments of society such as family-run dry cleaners, diners, cobblers and small businesses would be forced to close their doors when faced with the staggering costs to remediate “damages” caused by years of emissions. Just the threat of defending against such lawsuits would send destructive economic ripples through rural America.

While the agency continues to move forward with its proposal, many of the millions of entrepreneurs, workers and families who will be affected by this rulemaking remain unaware of the EPA’s planned ruling and its potential consequences. Given the importance of this decision and its impact on agriculture and the entire economy, it is crucial that the agency carefully weigh all of the risks and benefits of regulating greenhouse gas emissions in this manner.

As such, it would be wise for the EPA to extend the public comment period on this ruling for an additional 60 days past the current close date of June 23.

While it might appear as if ranchers worry over EPA regulations of bovine flatulence are nothing more than just a load of hot air, these concerns are legitimate. America is a nation built by the families who cultivated our vast lands. And this finding could strike at that core — U.S. agriculture operations and the workers and families who depend on them.

Marcie Williams is president of American Agri-Women, a national nonprofit coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women’s organizations.

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