American Farm Bureau Federation focuses on ESA, livestock tax issues
Sheridan – According to American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Director of Congressional Relations Rick Krause, it’s still too early to see what’s going to happen with changes in committee structure in the U.S. Congress.
Krause spoke at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in early November.
Krause said one very disturbing thing relates to the House Energy Committee, which deals with energy and natural resource issues, including the issue of climate change. A representative from California has challenged the current committee chairman, who is from Michigan and is more practical, according to Krause.
“The current chairman represents Detroit and is more practical and reasonable than others,” said Krause. “The one from California will be much more aggressive in trying to pass climate change and other nasty things. I don’t think he would have done this challenge had he not had the support of the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and a few other key Democrats.”
Regarding President-elect Barack Obama, Krause said, “We know what he said before the election, and now that it’s over there’s a clean slate on everything.”
Krause said he began working with Obama in early 2005 when the AFBF was looking for support on an Endangered Species Act reform bill. “He was on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and his reaction was that he wanted to work to bring people together and get something that would be workable for both sides,” said Krause. “Back then he was already saying the things he was saying during the campaign and I really hope he’s able to do that.”
However, Krause said it will depend on the people Obama has around him. “If they’re agenda- and activist-driven we won’t get anywhere, but if they’re really trying to accomplish something for the good of everybody we might not be as bad off as we think.”
Krause said the economy will be issues number one, two and three for the new administration and that health care is high on Obama’s agenda, as well as energy independence. “He’s more interested in things like alternative fuels. He’s not as keen on extraction in the U.S. and on public lands. He would do more things with renewable fuels and wind energy,” he noted.
Bending the law
Krause said the Bush Administration tried to do some things with the delisting of the wolf. “They listened to what we’ve said, but they’ve done their own thing with this. Now it’s come down to the federal judge in Montana saying wolves should not be delisted.”
He said the decision is an example of how a federal judge has bent the law and has not gone back to original discussions. “He found a hook to prevent delisting through finding a place in the final Environmental Impact Statement that talks about the need for genetic interchange,” said Krause. “That final EIS was four volumes long. If you can find only one or two places that talk about genetic interchange – that really doesn’t mean anything.”
Discussions with the U.S. Department of the Interior have revealed the current staff fully intends to delist wolves before they leave the administration, said Krause. “They have vacated the final rule and have gone back to the drawing board, which is not a bad move because it keeps the control of the process in their hands,” he said. The strategy to delist the wolf has been put out for public comment until Nov. 28.
Sage grouse waits
Concerning the sage grouse, Krause said the schedule provided that last June there would be a status review, which there was, and by December the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was supposed to make a finding to list or not list, leading to a final decision in June 2009.
Krause said the problem with the December deadline is that one of the requirements for the 12-month finding is consideration of an updated report from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The update was due two months ago, and it’s still not out. WAFWA expects its completion in March or June 2009. FWS cannot move forward until they receive the report.
Cow, pig tax
“The Environmental Protection Agency is itching to implement a cow and pig tax,” said Krause, explaining it’s in the context of climate change and greenhouse gases and regulating automobile emissions. “The problem is once you make a finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare, all other provisions of the Clean Air Act automatically kick in.”
Under the law, any entity that emits more than 100 tons of a regulated pollutant per year is required to get a permit to continue operation. “This is a tax on your business – it gives you the opportunity to continue operating,” said Krause.
According to USDA figures, any operation with 25 or more dairy cows, 50 or more beef cows or 200 or more hogs emits more than 100 tons of carbon dioxide per year and would trigger the requirement for an operational permit. Krause estimates 200 sheep would push a producer over the limit.
In the dairy industry, operations with over 25 cows are 99 percent of the country’s milk production. Those with more than 50 beef cows compose over 90 percent of beef production, while operations with 200 or more hogs equal 95 percent of pork production.
Under EPA guidelines, the tax equals $40 per ton of emissions. “If the states were to follow that rate, it’d cost $175 per dairy cow, $87 per beef cow and a little over $20 per hog per year. This is just a tax. This doesn’t get you anything,” explained Krause.
EPA has already begun asking for some comments on whether they should move forward with the new regulation. The comment period runs through the end of November.
“This is something everybody needs to fight,” said Krause. “It not only taxes animals, but farm machinery and dairy barns. Anything that involves greenhouse gas emissions would count toward the 100 tons.”
“This tax is very significant and part of a much bigger regulation that EPA would do under this greenhouse gas rule,” he explained. “If this rule goes into play, then EPA would have control of the economy. The administrator of EPA would be the most powerful person in the country.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.