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Published September 25, 2009, 08:11 AM

EPA's 'cow tax' possibilities killed for at least a year

A provision was added Thursday to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that would, for at least a year, extinguish any possibility of a so-called “cow tax” being levied against American livestock producers.

By: Korrie Wenzel, The Daily Republic

A provision was added Thursday to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that would, for at least a year, extinguish any possibility of a so-called “cow tax” being levied against American livestock producers.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has lobbied against the possibility of a cow tax for the past year and spoke against it on the Senate floor during Thursday debates. Whereas there never was an actual cow tax proposed, some in Congress felt the possibility of such a tax was present after the Environmental Protection Agency declared methane a hazard to Americans’ health and noted that cattle are a major source of the gas.

The natural and gaseous emissions of cattle produce approximately 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year — or 20 percent of U.S. methane emissions — according to EPA estimates.

“This is a great victory for South Dakota’s livestock producers and our rural economy,” Thune said in a statement to the media Thursday. “In recent months, the EPA has taken steps that would open the door to strict regulation of emissions from multiple sources without congressional approval. Both the Senate and the House Interior Appropriations bills would prevent the EPA from regulating livestock emissions, which is a victory for livestock producers, as well as all American consumers.”

According to Thune staff members, the Republican senator has monitored the EPA’s rule writing process and has spoken against any steps that he feels could lead to a cow tax.

Although some in Congress — including Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. — have assured producers that a cow tax is unlikely, the possibility of such a tax worried farm groups.

If producers ever would be required to purchase permits for their cattle, it could cost up to $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $20 per hog, according to estimates circulated by farm organizations and congressional members like Thune.

Such permits could cost South Dakota producers and farmers an estimated $367 million, according to Thune.

Earlier this week, Thune also noted other environmental-related issues on which he has been working, including:

• An amendment to the Interior bill that would ensure the EPA does not use indirect land-use studies in its calculation of the carbon footprint of renewable fuels and biofuels.

“They were headed down that path and we are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Thune said.

• An E15 amendment that would allow a higher blend of ethanol to fuels.

“We’re hoping that will happen in the near future,” he said.

• An amendment that would provide a one-year delay of EPA regulations that seek to regulate carbon dioxide from stationary sources, such as ethanol plants.

“The majority leader and other Democratic leaders in the Senate feel it’s unlikely the cap and trade bill that passed the House earlier this year will get debated in the Senate this year,” Thune said. “What that does is open the door for the EPA to unilaterally move without congressional input to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.”

Thune said he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are “contemplating delaying that very extensive top-down regulation of carbon emissions from thousands of stationary sources across the United States and across South Dakota.

“The amendment isn’t about whether we should have a cap and trade system and whether carbon dioxide emissions ought to be regulated. It’s about whether Congress feels the administration should unilaterally be allowed to create a new regulatory structure to regulate CO2 emissions without congressional input.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the three amendments had been introduced to the Senate.

Overall, Thune said he was involved this week with “four or five amendments” aimed at “some of the crazy things the EPA is doing right now that would ultimately lead to extremely high energy prices, electricity and fuel prices across South Dakota.”

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