EPA Tax Could Cost Missouri Farmers Millions

EPA Tax Could Cost Missouri
Farmers Millions

By Garrett
Hawkins

Taxing farmers and ranchers for their
livestock’s flatulence may seem like a bunch of hot air, but such a tax could
come to fruition under a proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA). 

The EPA recently released a proposed
finding that greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous
oxide pollute the air and may endanger public health and welfare by causing
global temperature changes.  The science behind global warming is still subject
to debate, but EPA appears to be moving closer to imposing new regulations to
combat climate changes allegedly induced by human activity and now perhaps even
livestock. 

The endangerment finding stems from a
2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling directing the EPA to conduct a scientific review
of regulating automobile emissions under the Federal Clean Air Act.  An Advance
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) was published last fall for public comment
by the Agency, raising questions and serious concerns about what such regulation
could mean.

The Supreme Court ruling and the ANPR
may have been limited to automobile emissions, but an endangerment finding goes
beyond GHG emissions from automobiles and will affect other sectors of the
economy, including agriculture.   

Under the Clean Air Act, the Title V
permit program applies to any entity that emits or has the potential to emit 100
tons of carbon dioxide or 100 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. 
Methane and nitrous oxide are considered to be more potent than carbon dioxide,
thus the threshold for emissions is lower. 

This is especially problematic for
animal agriculture, because livestock release methane as a part of the normal
biologic process.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated any operation
with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs emits more than 100
tons of carbon equivalent and as a result would have to obtain a Title V permit
if gases are regulated from all sources.  Over 90 percent of beef production, 95
percent of swine production and 99 percent of dairy production in the U.S. would
be affected. 

In addition to obtaining a permit,
farmers and ranchers would be required to pay costly fees, which would basically
function as a livestock tax.  Using USDA statistics and EPA data, American Farm
Bureau (AFBF) estimates annual fees could amount to $175 per dairy cow, $87.50
per beef animal and about $20 per hog.  The estimated fees are based on the
“presumptive minimum rate” set by EPA each year, but fees vary from state to
state. 

According to the 2007 Agriculture
Census, more than 22,000 Missouri cattle operations would be subject to the
annual “gas” tax.  Using AFBF’s estimated fees this amounts to a new tax in
excess of $300 million per year.  For hogs, 772 operations would be subject to
roughly $60 million in new taxes.

Regardless if it’s called a fee or a
tax, GHG regulation under the Clean Air Act will cost farm and ranch families,
not to mention our state’s economy, plenty.  In most cases, the additional costs
cannot be passed on to consumers and producers will be forced out of business. 
As this occurs, we have to wonder where our food will be
produced.

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(Garrett Hawkins is the director of national legislative
programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)