This week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was moving forward with an "endangerment finding" alleging that so-called greenhouse gases are a hazard to human health and the environment. This finding is of grave concern to agriculture in general and cattlemen in specific because it sets the stage for regulation of emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gasses (GHG's) under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and would give the EPA unprecedented control over every sector of the U.S. economy.
Congress has spent the better part of the year debating the issue via bills on "cap & trade" protocols where the government would cap a given industry's emissions of GHG's, but allow them to trade credits with other industry participants who don't emit as much. As American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) policy specialist Paul Schlegel pointed out this week, this move by EPA comes at the height of a series of reports questioning the validity of climate change data, with documentation suggesting that numerous global researchers believed to have falsified or tampered with their own data to exacerbate the scope of the perceived crisis.
“It’s premature to issue this kind of finding, especially given the recent controversy surrounding the scientific validity of alleged human contributions to climate change,” said Tamara Thies, NCBA chief environmental counsel. “Regulation of greenhouse gases should be based on science, and it should be thoughtfully considered and voted on by Congress through a democratic process, not dictated by the EPA.”
Moreover, while those ruling doesn't itself regulate GHG's, it does place our country on the slippery slope of allowing EPA to radically regulate every aspect of American commerce and industry, giving the Administration sweeping regulatory power absent Congressional action. To that end, some political observers now speculate Congress may be spurred to some manner of action to either augment, or to subvert the EPA push on this issue. The House passed a bill on party lines earlier this year, but the bill faces a much tougher road in the Senate, where agriculture is expected to fare far better in terms of offset provisions not included in the House legislation.
“Congress never intended for the Clean Air Act to be used for greenhouse gas regulation,” Thies reminds us. “While the Act has done a good job of cleaning up pollutants, it is not adequately equipped to address global climate change. Any attempts to use it for this purpose would be devastating to U.S. agriculture.”
To illustrate the potential calamity facing US farmers and ranchers, in rulemaking proceedings earlier this year, EPA indicated that it would develop an approach to regulate GHGs from hundreds of thousands of small operations, including farms and buildings.
While agricultural sources are currently generally not required to obtain permits for greenhouse gas emissions, regulation of GHGs under the CAA may for the first time trigger such regulation. Given the fact that America currently has over 2,000,000 farms, such regulation could impose massive regulatory compliance costs on the farm and ranch community, likely forcing many operations out of business.
NCBA points out that according to the EPA's own statistics, in 2007, GHG emissions from the entire agriculture sector represented less than 6% of total U.S. GHG emissions. At the same time, land use, land use change, and forestry activities resulted in a net carbon soil sequestration of approximately 17.4% of total U.S. CO2 emissions, or 14.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“Agriculture actually provides a significant net benefit to the climate change equation,” said Thies. “Rather than being subject to overly-burdensome regulations, agriculture should be rewarded for the carbon reductions we provide."
The backdrop to EPA's unprecedented announcement is the discussion of a global climate accord in Copenhagen, Denmark this week, where President Obama will meet with his counterparts from around the world to discuss an international approach to regulating and reducing GHG emissions. It is assumed that the two largest emitters outside the United States, China and India, will not commit to any meaningful reduction agreements, putting US farmers and manufacturers at a significant competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.
Furthermore, reports from Copenhagen suggest the 1997 Kyoto Treaty will play a major role in any agreement to come out of the Denmark gathering. The UN's signature accord on climate change and greenhouse gas issues was famously denounced by the United States, considered to be the only developed nation to forgo signing the treaty. While President Obama has said he has no plans to join the Kyoto group, he has clearly stated he will push the United States to do more on the issue. China and India, under Kyoto, are able to self-designate as "developing countries," meaning they are not subject to the same stringent standards as other Treaty signers.
NCBA submitted comments earlier this year on EPA's proposed ruling, and continues to engage both EPA and members of Congress on Cattlmen's concerns on this issue.