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Copenhagen — Day 1

December 9, 2009

The long-awaited and much ballyhooed United Nations-sponsored international climate change conference began Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

But perhaps the biggest news was made in our nation’s capitol where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its highly anticipated endangerment finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health.

GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans.

Reaction was strong from both sides of the debate.  The timing of EPA’s announcement was not a coincidence as AFBF pointed out in its news release which warned that the finding could cause “severe consequences for America’s farmers and ranchers.”   AFBF once again raised  the possibility of the so-called “cow tax.”  

“We realize the EPA’s stated intention is to focus this finding narrowly on specific industries, using particular thresholds, but we believe there is no protection in the provisions that prevent them from being applied broadly across all sectors, including farm and ranch families who produce livestock. Due to the timing of the announcement, with the Copenhagen talks about to kickoff, we also believe this move could have more to do with political science than climate science.”

In a late October meeting with IFB county managers, EPA’s Larry Elworth denied the agency has any plans for a cow tax or any kind of livestock tax.

Occasionally, you’ll hear someone argue that regulation is inevitable and suggest that it would be better to simply allow Congress to pass cap and trade legislation than to live with EPA greenhouse gas regulations.

  • While it opens the door for rule making, the endangerment finding does not by itself create any regulations.   Imposing severe regulations on the energy sector would be politically unpopular.
  • Tailoring the rule to cover only emitters of more than 25,000 tons of GHG per year, as EPA intends to do, will invite legal challenges which could stop them from imposing any regulations, the same kinds of legal challenges that have been a favorite and effective tactic of environmental groups.
  • If cap and trade were a slam dunk, why is Congress postponing consideration until next Spring?   There’s no need to resign ourselves to accepting what amounts to bad public policy and a bleak future of planting trees.

So then, what should we do?  

Assuming some legislation designed to reduce carbon emissions is inevitable, which direction should we go?

Farm Bureau recommends a strategy that the U.S. has never tried:  A comprehensive energy policy that relies on increased exploration for natural gas, more nuclear energy, investments in clean coal, incentives for next generation renewable fuels and biomass, as well as for wind, solar, and geothermal energy.   Agriculture can play an even bigger role. 

There  should be no need to put on an economic hair shirt, which would cause price spikes in energy, transportation and production inputs and inevitable job losses.  How many so-called “dirty jobs” should we be prepared to lose to gain a single “green job?”   There are many who suggest that most of the green jobs will actually be government jobs.

No one is opposed to renewable energy.  Farmers have embraced renewable fuels.   They’re experimenting with next generation fuel and biomass production, and they’re leasing land for wind energy development.

Clearly, Illinois has no shortage of windmills.  You can hardly drive down the interstate these days without seeing a new turbine going up. However, in the whole scheme of things, I’m told that when all of wind farms on the drawing board are completed, they will address a relatively small fraction — between 5 and 8 percent — of Illinois’ total electricity demand.

As wonderful as they are, it will take more than windmills, solar panels or methane digesters to power what we hope will be a growing economy.


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