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Published April 24, 2009, 08:03 AM

Our View: Cow tax: Work now to kill it off

Is America getting closer to a tax on cow emissions? It depends on who you’re asking. A few months ago, the possibility of taxing our livestock for their digestive indiscretions would have seemed like nothing more than the hot air such a proposal seeks to assess. But something is afoul here, and it’s not just the methane-rich emissions of our cows and hogs.

Is America getting closer to a tax on cow emissions? It depends on who you’re asking. A few months ago, the possibility of taxing our livestock for their digestive indiscretions would have seemed like nothing more than the hot air such a proposal seeks to assess. But something is afoul here, and it’s not just the methane-rich emissions of our cows and hogs. It’s true that cattle and other livestock produce gaseous pollutants. We excuse them for their crudeness, either because it’s only natural or possibly because livestock is a multimillion-dollar industry here on the Great Plains. Probably the latter. Yet according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, 25 dairy cattle can emit more than 100 tons of environmental pollutants each year.

To offset these emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency could subject livestock operators and their animals to adhering to the Clean Air Act. Such a decision could result in a substantial per-animal tax for producers: up to $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 per hog, according to the New York Farm Bureau.

Farmers and ranchers, naturally, would be against such a tax. So would we.

And although there is nothing yet to suggest the EPA will ever follow through on actually enacting what is being called a “cow tax,” some members of Congress are working to thwart any such possibility.

Here’s where it gets confusing.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., this week said a cow tax would be “absolutely disastrous to South Dakota and our economy.” He’s made comments like that for the past few months. Also, Thune and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, N.Y., in March introduced legislation that would prevent a cow tax.

Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is less enthusiastic. His spokeswoman told The Daily Republic this week that “the most recent EPA findings on greenhouse gases in no way propose a tax on livestock emissions.” End of comment.

We find it difficult to understand why one of our senators is so gung-ho about heading off possibilities of a cow tax while the other denies its possibility.

To us, any talk — even the plainest and simplest of discussions — about a cow tax should create a stir and call to action around these parts. South Dakota’s economy simply cannot afford such a substantial tax on livestock.

Do we truly believe a cow tax will ever come to fruition? Not really.

But we know we’re willing to do any and all things to keep it from happening.

All South Dakotans should feel the same way.

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