Policy & Politics

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Comments regarding regulating greenhouse gases

Published Nov. 25, 2008

 

November 25, 2008

Air and Radiation Docket and Information Center

Environmental Protection Agency

Mailcode: 2822T

1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.,

Washington, DC 20460

RE: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0318

To Whom It May Concern:

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) is the largest general farm organization in the state of Ohio with members in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. Our members produce virtually every kind of agricultural commodity and as a result, OFBF is strongly interested in environmental policies and their potential impact to sustaining a viable agbioresource industry in Ohio. OFBF appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) for regulating greenhouse gases (GHG) under the Clean Air Act. The ANPR document presents many complex issues for public comment, several of which directly and adversely impact agriculture. Our comments focus on one issue that is of immediate and direct concern for Ohio agriculture.

The ANPR was published in response to the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which dealt with a petition to regulate automobile emissions. In order to trigger the regulation of automobile emissions under the Clean Air Act, US EPA must first make a finding that any or all of the GHG endanger public health or welfare.

Such an approach is not straightforward, and once an endangerment finding is made US EPA cannot restrict its regulations to only emissions from automobiles. Rather, a number of other provisions of the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered. An endangerment finding would have wide-ranging repercussions and result in outcomes that would go well beyond those in simply one sector.

One Clean Air Act program that would automatically come into play as a result of an endangerment finding is the Title V permit program. Title V requires that any entity that emits, or has the potential to emit, 100 tons of a regulated pollutant must acquire a permit in order to continue to operate. The requirement for a permit is mandatory and always results in the imposition of a fee by the government. Therefore, for all practical purposes, it represents a tax.

For pollutants that already fall under regulation, a 100-ton threshold is high enough to exclude most emitters. As a consequence, only large emitters tend to be covered. For greenhouse gases, the situation poses different challenges. There are literally hundreds of thousands of entities that emit more than 100 tons of greenhouse gases who would be required to obtain Title V permits - impacting virtually every segment of the economy.

Animal agriculture would be especially affected by this approach. Unlike other sectors, agriculture emits relatively more methane and nitrous oxide (primarily from livestock, such as cows and hogs) than carbon dioxide, both of which are alleged to be more potent GHG than carbon dioxide. As a result, according to some, it takes less emission of either to produce the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that any operation with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs emits more than 100 tons of carbon equivalent and would need to obtain a permit under Title V in order to be able to continue to operate, if greenhouse gas regulations as envisioned by the ANPR went into effect. The most recent Ohio Agricultural Statistics indicate that approximately 3160 dairy, 6180 beef and 1075 hog producers would be required to obtain a Title V permit in Ohio alone.

Utilizing the Ohio EPA established 2008-2009 rate of $43.75 per ton as the permit fee and current agricultural statistics, the tax for dairies would be $175 per cow per year, for beef $87.50 per head per year, and the tax on hogs would be a little more than $20 per hog per year. The resulting Title V fee structure would function effectively as an annual $170 million tax on the Ohio dairy, beef and pork sectors. As a result of litigation aimed at regulating automobile emissions, Ohio EPA would wind up taxing dairy and beef cows, as well as pigs.

Traditionally farmers are price “takers” not price “makers” and most livestock and dairy farmers would not be able to pass along the costs incurred under this plan. Steep fees associated with this action would force many producers out of business. The likely reduction in production will lead to higher prices to consumers for milk, beef and pork.

While the economic costs to producers from taxing livestock would be great, the environmental benefits intended from such regulation are speculative at best. The Clean Air Act is designed to regulate air pollutants that are local in nature and are emitted from sources that are easily ascertained. These factors allow for effective regulation and reduction of the pollutant, because they are within the control of the regulating agency.

The net effect of this policy would be to impose severe penalties on livestock producers without effectively reducing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Most emissions from cows and pigs are from natural or biological processes. Enteric fermentation is a large source of these emissions, and there is no known technology to prevent or mitigate such emissions.

For these reasons, the Clean Air Act is not an appropriate mechanism for regulating greenhouse gases. An endangerment finding under one section of the Act automatically triggers regulation under other provisions of the Act. Leading to many unintended consequences, such as a regulation intended to address automobile emissions leading to the mandatory imposition of taxes on cattle and hogs. The statute does not allow flexibility, and agency attempts to provide administrative flexibility have been overturned by the courts. The mandatory statutory thresholds that work effectively for traditional air pollutants lead to unintended regulation of agriculture.

This letter addresses one of many unintended consequences from Clean Air Act regulation of greenhouse gases. That one unintended consequence threatens the viability of a significant part of agriculture in Ohio and the United States.

Sincerely,

John C. Fisher, Executive Vice-President

Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

JCF/lma

Cc: Bob Peterson, President OFBF

OFBF Board of Trustees

OFBF Cabinet

 



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