State’s farmers worry about EPA proposal

The EPA says that regulating gases from cars would trigger the regulation from agricultural sources as well.
REUTERS/Frank Polich
The EPA says that regulating gases from cars would trigger the regulation from agricultural sources as well.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s not on the books yet, but farmers in Minnesota are worried about a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would allow the government to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act — and cost farmers big bucks.

In Washington parlance, the agency has issued an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” on its ability to police emissions — an early warning shot demonstrating the government’s intent to impose a new regulation. The document is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dealt with a petition to regulate vehicle emissions, and essentially requires the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger public health. 

The EPA’s document notes that regulating gases from cars would trigger the regulation of stationary sources as well. Under the new rule, farms that emit more than 100 tons of a pollutant each year could be forced to get a permit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That means even small agricultural facilities — such as dairy operations with over 25 cows, hog farms with over 200 hogs, and farms with over 500 acres of corn that emit such pollutants as nitrous oxide and methane — would require a permit, agriculture department officials said.

Using EPA data and agriculture department statistics, the Minnesota Farm Bureau estimates that permits could annually cost farmers up to $175 per cow, $87.50 per head of beef and around $20 per hog.

In Minnesota, where more than half of agricultural production involves livestock production, the repercussions could be far-reaching. About 98 percent of total dairy production, 89 percent of beef production and over 97 percent of all hog production would fall under these thresholds, said Staci Bohlen, who is the national issues specialist for the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Because of the pressure of competition, farmers could not easily pass permit costs on to consumers, Bohlen added. “Farmers are generally price takers, not price makers,” she said.

The worry doesn’t end there. Farm groups say that the rule could set a precedent for regulating all aspects of agriculture, including carbon dioxide emitted from tractors and other farm equipment. 

“We’re just staying tuned for that,” Bohlen said.

The agriculture sector is responsible for relatively little greenhouse gas emissions in the United States — about 8 percent, according to a report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Most pollutants come from power plants and industry.

Instead, farm groups are advocating that agriculture help offset greenhouse gases by “trapping” carbon and other green house gases in their soil and trees. Under this plan, farmers could get credit for planning trees on their land and not tilling their soil. (Turning over soil releases carbon, nitrogen and other gases into the air.)

“Broadly speaking, in the U.S., agriculture is not a huge amount of emissions,” said Judi Greenwald, vice president of innovative solutions for the Pew Center. “But there is potentially a huge amount of mitigation they could do.”

Credit for trapping greenhouse gases in soil, through biofuel production or methane capture, could come in the form of government subsidies, Greenwald suggested. All those are practices that could result in cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5 to 14 percent. (PDF)

EPA’s plans remain murky. On one hand it can take years for the government to revise and implement a new regulation, and there is no guarantee that the EPA would move include farming operations in its new rules.

Nevertheless, President-elect Barack Obama is signaling he’s serious about regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, and the agricultural industry isn’t taking any chances. 

“We see this advance notice as us needing to be on notice,” said Tara Smith, who is director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “I don’t think agriculture wants to be caught two years down the road not having paid attention to it.”

Catharine Richert reports on developments in Congress, agriculture issues and other topics. She can be reached at crichert [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 12/17/2008 - 08:42 am.

    I found this quote to be the most interesting part:

    “Farmers are generally price takers, not price makers,”

    Maybe someone can explain to me something I’ve never been able to figure out about economics. Every time we try to establish regulations, the industry in question complains that it will cost them money. But if the regulation is levered on ALL of the members of an industry, all of their costs should simply go up by the same amount and consumers should bear the cost – and we damn well should bear the cost of clean air. So what magical thing here makes the farmers “price takers, not price makers”?

  2. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 12/17/2008 - 10:51 am.

    In response to Jeff Klein’s comment, two factors make farmers “price takers, not price makers.”

    One is the scale of farming. If you are a small operator, you generally have to deal with corporations larger than yourself that exercise greater power over prices than you do. If you are a big operator, like Wal-Mart or Starbucks, you have more power to set prices yourself. The argument from scale, of course, is not equally true for all farmers. Since the age of Earl Butz and the “get big or get out” system of limitless subsidies, most farm operations are much bigger than we imagine, and the owners of these operations are being a little dishonest when they claim to have no effect on prices. On the other hand, there are still smaller farm operations out there, and small-scale farmers deserve some compassion. Part of the trick of plutocracy, of course, is to claim that the same rules should apply to big and small businesses, but in effect, this always favors the big ones and ruins the small ones.

    The other factor that makes farmers price takers is that there are many things you cannot control on a farm, such as the weather. As a farmer, you simply have to accept good and bad harvests, so you don’t have the same control over costs as other industries whose raw materials are more inorganic and less organic.

    I believe we need to go easy on small farmers, but demand from the big ones all the responsibility that is commensurate with their power. We should also cap, but not eliminate the subsidies, so that the big farms stop gobbling up the small ones.

    And I have this advice: Feed cattle grass, not corn; raise them on fields, not in factories. This reduces flatulence and CO2 emissions. This is what Michael Pollan recommends. All of Pollan’s books on this subject, such as THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA and IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, are worth reading.

  3. Submitted by david granneman on 12/17/2008 - 02:25 pm.

    hello all
    it looks like we are going to drive up the price of our food all in the name of the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX. it looks like in the future only the rich will be able to buy a steak.



  4. Submitted by david granneman on 12/17/2008 - 03:02 pm.

    U.S. Senate Minority Report Update: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims
    December 11, 2008

    Posted by Marc Morano – 9:30 AM EST – Marc_Morano@EPW.Senate.GOV

    U. S. Senate Minority Report:

    More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims

    Scientists Continue to Debunk “Consensus” in 2008

    Link to Full Printable PDF Report

    Over 650 dissenting scientists from around the globe challenged man-made global warming claims made by the United Nations Intergovernemntal Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former Vice President Al Gore. This new 231-page U.S. Senate Minority Report report — updated from 2007’s groundbreaking report of over 400 scientists who voiced skepticism about the so-called global warming “consensus” — features the skeptical voices of over 650 prominent international scientists, including many current and former UN IPCC scientists, who have now turned against the UN IPCC. This updated report includes an additional 250 (and growing) scientists and climate researchers since the initial release in December 2007. The over 650 dissenting scientists are more than 12 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers.

    The chorus of skeptical scientific voices grow louder in 2008 as a steady stream of peer-reviewed studies, analyses, real world data and inconvenient developments challenged the UN and former Vice President Al Gore’s claims that the “science is settled” and there is a “consensus.” On a range of issues, 2008 proved to be challenging for the promoters of man-made climate fears. Promoters of anthropogenic warming fears endured the following: Global temperatures failing to warm; Peer-reviwed studies predicting a continued lack of warming; a failed attempt to revive the discredited “Hockey Stick”; inconvenient developments and studies regarding CO2; the Sun; Clouds; Antarctica; the Arctic; Greenland; Mount Kilimanjaro; Hurricanes; Extreme Storms; Floods; Ocean Acidification; Polar Bears; lack of atmosphieric dust; the failure of oceans to warm and rise as predicted.

    In addition, the following developments further secured 2008 as the year the “consensus” collapsed. Russian scientists “rejected the very idea that carbon dioxide may be responsible for global warming”. An American Physical Society editor conceded that a “considerable presence” of scientific skeptics exist. An International team of scientists countered the UN IPCC, declaring: “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate”. India Issued a report challenging global warming fears. International Scientists demanded the UN IPCC “be called to account and cease its deceptive practices,” and a canvass of more than 51,000 Canadian scientists revealed 68% disagree that global warming science is “settled.”

    This new report issued by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s office of the GOP Ranking Member is the latest evidence of the growing groundswell of scientific opposition challenging significant aspects of the claims of the UN IPCC and Al Gore. Scientific meetings are now being dominated by a growing number of skeptical scientists. The prestigious International Geological Congress, dubbed the geologists’ equivalent of the Olympic Games, was held in Norway in August 2008 and prominently featured the voices of scientists skeptical of man-made global warming fears. [See Full report Here: & see: Skeptical scientists overwhelm conference: ‘2/3 of presenters and question-askers were hostile to, even dismissive of, the UN IPCC’ ]

    Even the mainstream media has begun to take notice of the expanding number of scientists serving as “consensus busters.” A November 25, 2008 article in Politico noted that a “growing accumulation” of science is challenging warming fears, and added that the “science behind global warming may still be too shaky to warrant cap-and-trade legislation.” Canada’s Financial Post noted on October 20, 2008, that “the number of climate change skeptics is growing rapidly.” New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin noted on March 6, 2008, “As we all know, climate science is not a numbers game (there are heaps of signed statements by folks with advanced degrees on all sides of this issue),” Revkin wrote. (LINK) In 2007, Washington Post Staff Writer Juliet Eilperin conceded the obvious, writing that climate skeptics “appear to be expanding rather than shrinking.”

  5. Submitted by david granneman on 12/17/2008 - 03:03 pm.

    Sampling of key quotes from scientists participating in the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change:

    Former UN Scientist Dr. Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute in Paris (who resigned from UN IPCC in protest): “As far as the science being ‘settled,’ I think that is an obscenity. The fact is the science is being distorted by people who are not scientists.”

    UN IPCC scientist Vincent Gray of New Zealand: “This conference demonstrates that the [scientific] debate is not over. The climate is not being influenced by carbon dioxide.”

    Canadian Climatologist Dr. Timothy Ball: “If we are facing [a crisis] at all, I think it is that we are preparing for warming when it is looking like we are cooling. We are preparing for the wrong thing.”

    Climate researcher Dr. Craig Loehle, formerly of the Department of Energy Laboratories and currently with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvements, has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers: “The 2000-year [temperature] trend is not flat, so a warming period is not unprecedented. […] 1500-year [temperature] cycle as proposed by [Atmospheric physicist Fred] Singer and [Dennis] Avery is consistent with Loehle climate reconstruction. […] 1500-year cycle implies that recent warming is part of natural trend.”

    Hurricane expert and Meteorologist Dr. William Gray: “There are lot’s of skeptics out there, all over the U.S. and the rest of the world. [Global warming] has been over-hyped tremendously; most of the climate change we have seen is largely natural. I think we are brainwashing our children terribly.”

    UK Astrophysicist Piers Corbyn: “There is no evidence that CO2 has ever driven or will ever drive world temperatures and climate change. The consequence of that is that worrying about CO2 is irrelevant. Our prediction is world temperatures will continue to decline until 2014 and probably continue to decline after that.”

    Weather Channel founder and meteorologist John Coleman: “Serious scientists and serious students of global warming have concluded after a lot of effort that there is little basis for the thought that we are going to have catastrophic global warming.”

    Dr. Benny Peiser of the Faculty of Science of Liverpool John Moores University in UK: “[Global warming cap-and-trade bills have] caused so much trouble in Europe. It’s not working, it’s never going to work. It won’t have any effect on the climate, but only that there will be more unemployed in Europe. If that helps the climate, perhaps that is a solution.”

    Atmospheric physicist Ferenc Miskolczi, formerly with NASA’s Langley Research Center: “The runaway greenhouse effect is physically impossible. […] The observed global warming has nothing to do directly with the greenhouse effect; it must be related to changes in the total absorbed solar radiation or dissipated heat from other natural or anthropogenic sources of thermal energy.”

    Meteorologist Art Horn: “There are thousands of scientists around the world who believe that this issue is not settled. The climate is not being influenced by carbon dioxide.”

    German Meteorologist Dr. Gerd-Rainer Weber: “Most of the extremist views about climate change have little or no scientific basis. The rational basis for extremist views about global warming may be a desire to push for political action on global warming.”

    Physics Professor Emeritus Dr. Howard Hayden of the University of Connecticut: “The fluctuations in Earth’s temperature are caused by astronomical phenomena. The combined effects of all ‘greenhouse gases,’ albedo changes, and other Earthly changes account for no more than about 3 degrees C of the changes during transitions between ice ages and interglacials.”

    Climate statistician Dr. William M. Briggs, who serves on the American Meteorological Society’s Probability and Statistics Committee and is an Associate Editor of Monthly Weather Review: “It is my belief that the strident and frequent claims of catastrophes caused by man-made global warming are stated with a degree of confidence not warranted by the data. […] Too many people are too confident about too many things. That was the simple message of the Heartland conference, and one that I hope sinks in.” (LINK)

  6. Submitted by david granneman on 12/17/2008 - 03:03 pm.

    The International Climate Conference in New York also featured hundreds of climate experts from around the world, who issued a March 4 “Manhattan Declaration” on man-made global warming, stating in part:

    1) “That there is no convincing evidence that CO2 emissions from modern industrial activity has in the past, is now, or will in the future cause catastrophic climate change.”

    2) “That attempts by governments to inflict taxes and costly regulations on industry and individual citizens with the aim of reducing emissions of CO2 will pointlessly curtail the prosperity of the West and progress of developing nations without affecting climate.”

    3) “That human-caused climate change is not a global crisis.”

    The declaration resolved that “scientific questions should be evaluated solely by the scientific method.”

  7. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 12/17/2008 - 06:49 pm.

    While we’re on a debunking kick, I’m afraid I must recant the claim I made in my last letter. I cannot claim that feeding cattle grass rather than grain makes them less flatulent. My wife, whose concept of digestion is more accurate than mine (because she is a medical doctor) says I need to back this claim up, and I upon double-checking, I have not found it in a copy of the book by Michael Pollan that stands on my shelf. I apologize for making an unproven claim and seeming to make Pollan, who is a careful researcher, responsible.

    I can add an interesting claim from “Wikipedia,” one that IS documented:

    “Flatulence is often blamed as a significant source of greenhouse gases owing to the erroneous belief that the methane released by livestock is in the flatus. While livestock account for around 20% of global methane emissions, 90-95% of that is released by exhaling or burping. Only 1–2% of global methane emissions come from livestock flatus.”

    So I suppose more research is needed. Certainly we can reduce CO2 emissions in many ways without having to make life harder for cattle farmers.

    I do not, however, share the hopeful skepticism expressed in so many other comments on this thread in regard to the greenhouse effect. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) both endorse the threefold claim: (1) that global warming is real, (2) that the greenhouse theory is sound, and (3) that humans are responsible for global warming and ought to take action to counteract it. I’ll accept the opinion of these two massive organizations over any tiny club of dissenters.

  8. Submitted by david granneman on 12/18/2008 - 11:12 am.

    31,000 scientists reject ‘global warming’ agenda ‘Mr. Gore’s movie has claims no informed expert endorses’

    Posted: May 19, 2008
    8:51 pm Eastern

    By Bob Unruh
    © 2008 WorldNetDaily

    More than 31,000 scientists across the U.S. – including more than 9,000 Ph.D.s in fields such as atmospheric science, climatology, Earth science, environment and dozens of other specialties – have signed a petition rejecting “global warming,” the assumption that the human production of greenhouse gases is damaging Earth’s climate.

    “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate,” the petition states. “Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

    The Petition Project actually was launched nearly 10 years ago, when the first few thousand signatures were assembled. Then, between 1999 and 2007, the list of signatures grew gradually without any special effort or campaign.

    But now, a new effort has been conducted because of an “escalation of the claims of ‘consensus,’ release of the movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by Mr. Al Gore, and related events,” according to officials with the project.

    (Story continues below)

    “Mr. Gore’s movie, asserting a ‘consensus’ and ‘settled science’ in agreement about human-caused global warming, conveyed the claims about human-caused global warming to ordinary movie goers and to public school children, to whom the film was widely distributed. Unfortunately, Mr. Gore’s movie contains many very serious incorrect claims which no informed, honest scientist could endorse,” said project spokesman and founder Art Robinson.

    WND submitted a request to Gore’s office for comment but did not get a response.

    Robinson said the dire warnings about “global warming” have gone far beyond semantics or scientific discussion now to the point they are actually endangering people.

    “The campaign to severely ration hydrocarbon energy technology has now been markedly expanded,” he said. “In the course of this campaign, many scientifically invalid claims about impending climate emergencies are being made. Simultaneously, proposed political actions to severely reduce hydrocarbon use now threaten the prosperity of Americans and the very existence of hundreds of millions of people in poorer countries,” he said.

    In just the past few weeks, there have been various allegations that both shark attacks and typhoons have been sparked by “global warming.”

    The late Professor Frederick Seitz, the past president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and winner of the National Medal of Science, wrote in a letter promoting the petition, “The United States is very close to adopting an international agreement that would ration the use of energy and of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas and some other organic compounds.”

    “This treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas. Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful,” he wrote.

    Accompanying the letter sent to scientists was a 12-page summary and review of research on “global warming,” officials said.

    “The proposed agreement would have very negative effects upon the technology of nations throughout the world, especially those that are currently attempting to lift from poverty and provide opportunities to the over 4 billion people in technologically underdeveloped countries,” Seitz wrote.

  9. Submitted by david granneman on 12/18/2008 - 11:13 am.

    Robinson said the project targets scientists because, “It is especially important for America to hear from its citizens who have the training necessary to evaluate the relevant data and offer sound advice.”

    He said the “global warming agreement,” written in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, and other plans “would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

    “Yet,” he said, “the United Nations and other vocal political interests say the U.S. must enact new laws that will sharply reduce domestic energy production and raise energy prices even higher.

    “The inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness include the right of access to life-giving and life-enhancing technology. This is especially true of access to the most basic of all technologies: energy. These human rights have been extensively and wrongly abridged,” he continued. “During the past two generations in the U.S., a system of high taxation, extensive regulation, and ubiquitous litigation has arisen that prevents the accumulation of sufficient capital and the exercise of sufficient freedom to build and preserve needed modern technology.

    “These unfavorable political trends have severely damaged our energy production, where lack of industrial progress has left our country dependent upon foreign sources for 30 percent of the energy required to maintain our current level of prosperity,” he said. “Moreover, the transfer of other U.S. industries abroad as a result of these same trends has left U.S. citizens with too few goods and services to trade for the energy that they do not produce. A huge and unsustainable trade deficit and rapidly rising energy prices have been the result.

    “The necessary hydrocarbon and nuclear energy production technologies have been available to U.S. engineers for many decades. We can develop these resources without harm to people or the environment. There is absolutely no technical, resource, or environmental reason for the U.S. to be a net importer of energy. The U.S. should, in fact, be a net exporter of energy,” he said.

    He told WND he believes the issue has nothing to do with energy itself, but everything to do with power, control and money, which the United Nations is seeking. He accused the U.N. of violating human rights in its campaign to ban much energy research, exploration and development.

    “In order to alleviate the current energy emergency and prevent future emergencies, we need to remove the governmental restrictions that have caused this problem. Fundamental human rights require that U.S. citizens and their industries be free to produce and use the low cost, abundant energy that they need. As the 31,000 signatories of this petition emphasize, environmental science supports this freedom,” he said.

    The Petition Project website today said there are 31,072 scientists who have signed up, and Robinson said more names continue to come in.

    In terms of Ph.D. scientists alone, it already has 15 times more scientists than are seriously involved in the U.N.’s campaign to “vilify hydrocarbons,” officials told WND.

    “The very large number of petition signers demonstrates that, if there is a consensus among American scientists, it is in opposition to the human-caused global warming hypothesis rather than in favor of it,” the organization noted.

    The project was set up by a team of physicists and physical chemists who do research at several American institutions and collects signatures when donations provide the resources to mail out more letters.

    “In a group of more than 30,000 people, there are many individuals with names similar or identical to other signatories, or to non-signatories – real or fictional. Opponents of the petition project sometimes use this statistical fact in efforts to discredit the project. For examples, Perry Mason and Michael Fox are scientists who have signed the petition – who happen also to have names identical to fictional or real non-scientists,” the website said.

    The petition is needed, supporters said, simply because Gore and others “have claimed that the ‘science is settled’ – that an overwhelming ‘consensus’ of scientists agrees with the hypothesis of human-caused global warming, with only a handful of skeptical scientists in disagreement.”

    The list of scientists includes 9,021 Ph.D.s, 6,961 at the master’s level, 2,240 medical doctors and 12,850 carrying a bachelor of science or equivalent academic degree.

    The Petition Project’s website includes both a list of scientists by name as well as a list of scientists by state.

  10. Submitted by david granneman on 12/18/2008 - 11:18 am.

    hello all
    in reply to Eric Paul Jacobsen

    i have submitted documentation regarding the many thousands of scientists who believe global warming is not happening.

    can you provide documentation for your point of view or are we to believe it is true just because you say so.


  11. Submitted by William Malo on 12/19/2008 - 10:03 am.

    Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland, according to a new, comprehensive study by NASA and university scientists.

    More hoax?

  12. Submitted by William Malo on 12/19/2008 - 10:13 am.

    Obsession most often obscures objectivity — while there is plethora of ‘opinion’s’ available — the empirical data confirms this planet is experiencing weather phenomena.

    You can argue against it, as many do, but the reality won’t change, and the scientific data will remain the same, regardless the interpretation.

    There are millions of scientific professionals and as many biases, quoting them means little, and assembling a consensus by cherry-picking through this college doesn’t take much time or thought.

    Dig up some real facts, some real science and let the readership decide.

  13. Submitted by david granneman on 12/19/2008 - 05:10 pm.

    hello all
    mr malo – you call the comments above cherry-picking. you may not know this but most of the people listed above are the some of the most outstanding and highest regarded scientists in the field in the world. the petition project listed above has 33,000 scientists listed including over 400 in minnesota – you are like most global warming BELIEVERS – they dont want the true scientific facts confuse them and alter there belief of their god – MOTHER EARTH.

  14. Submitted by Tim Gieseke on 12/23/2008 - 01:21 pm.

    As a farmer I understand that my livestock and crop production systems emit gases. But if I use the other side of my brain, I also realize that all I produce is sequestered carbon – meat, feed, food, etc. An since the majority of the energy needs to produce and sequester these items of carbon are derived from non-carbon based solar energy, my net energy and carbon sequestration balance is positive. When I make a sales transaction and a person consume these sequestered carbon items (food) then they do emit these gases. But if we decide that the farmer is liable for all uses of all production beyond the farm, then this folly will have to be discussed in higher courts. To exempt consumption from emissions and tax the producers seems as logical as the parasitic high finance system we have embraced in the last two decades.

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