EPA's Clean Power Plan will impact food production - October 2016

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Will a new president change the way Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) operates? This is a question many in agriculture will ask themselves when determining who they will vote for this election cycle.

Farm Bureau led the charge against the EPA's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules and have continued to try and get Congressional action to permanently rein in the agency. This isn't the first time we've had to spend significant resources to protect agriculture against this agency. Many Farm Bureau members took part in a campaign to prevent a carbon tax that would have impacted all segments of our society. The “Don't Cap Our Future” campaign was successful in keeping EPA from imposing a carbon tax on things that produce carbon.

Many of us also remember former American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) staff member Rick Krause's comments to our members about the “cow tax” that was being bandied about by, you guessed it, EPA. This was to reduce methane emissions by cows burping.

With WOTUS the agency claimed that its motives were purely altruistic. They just wanted to bring clarity to the muddy waters surrounding what constitutes a “water of the U.S.” In order to do this, of course, they would basically eliminate the distinction between what is a water of the United States and any other waters giving the agency control over everyone that used water. This would also have eliminated any “states rights” and mortally wounded federalism if not killed it. But clarity would have been achieved.

Most of us in Wyoming are aware of the Clean Power Plan and we certainly have felt the plan’s economic impact. In this case EPA is only doing the bidding of those higher up the food chain, but the impacts on the energy sector are enormous.

Now it turns out Washington's Clean Power Plan also has some stuff tucked into it that can affect agriculture. According to the folks at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) in an article in the Wall Street Journal, EPA is counting biogenetic-carbon emissions the same way they count carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels. In other words this is the carbon that is used by plants in their normal biological functions and then when the plant is harvested it will be considered the same as if those products were burned. The user of that product such as bakers or brewers or grain processors will have to certify to the EPA that these products were from “sustainably-derived agricultural feedstocks.” Of course in order to do that they will probably require the agricultural producer certify they are doing things sustainably, and you can't just call it sustainable without some government agency certifying that it is. That agency will be the EPA.

So when you grow your crop to feed to your animals or other people, you will need to ensure you are a sustainable producer. No doubt you will have to keep careful records to submit to EPA to show that you are farming in accordance with their ideas on sustainability. Such sustainable practices will no doubt require that you've obtained the necessary Clean Water Act permits and if you happen to irrigate your crops you undoubtedly will need to ensure the irrigation withdrawals will not affect macro-invertebrates, or some other water quality criterion.

Will your livestock also be unsustainably burping methane greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? And if they are, what are you going to do about it?

So again, will a new president do something about EPA's efforts to become the “all controlling” agency which must be appeased by the farmer/rancher in order to do what they've been doing for millenniums? It's a question we should ask ourselves when we go to vote in November.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President