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Published October 23, 2009, 07:56 AM

Farm Bureau disputes EWG’s claims

A top South Dakota farm-industry official disagrees with a national environmental group and its assertion that climate-change legislation won’t significantly hurt farmers and ranchers.
The Environmental Working Group recently issued a report claiming that pending congressional climate-change legislation will not be as costly for farmers and ranchers as some agricultural leaders have predicted. The report called the legislation “more puppy than wolf.”

By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic

A top South Dakota farm-industry official disagrees with a national environmental group and its assertion that climate-change legislation won’t significantly hurt farmers and ranchers.

The Environmental Working Group recently issued a report claiming that pending congressional climate-change legislation will not be as costly for farmers and ranchers as some agricultural leaders have predicted. The report called the legislation “more puppy than wolf.”

Mike Held, administrative director of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, thinks the EWG report is “completely one-sided.”

“It’s typical for the Environmental Working Group, who has opposed and attacked farm and ranch families for many years, to take a cheap shot with half the story,” Held, of Huron, said in a phone call to The Daily Republic.

Held offered some statistics to counter those in the EWG report. He cited a study by Texas A&M, for example, which predicts that the average annual net- cash farm income for a 375-cattle West River beef ranch will decrease by $17,300 if the House version of climate-change legislation becomes law.

The House passed a climate-change bill last summer, and the debate has since moved to the Senate. The legislation proposes a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions from air polluters like power plants and industrial factories, and a system for the buying and selling of emission allowances.

The combination of the cap and the allowance-trading market is known as “cap and trade.”

Higher emitters would face greater costs and would, therefore, have an incentive to reduce emissions, according to the logic behind the effort. The goal is to cut down on greenhouse gases thought to be contributing to global climate change.

Some ag-industry leaders think the extra costs imposed on polluters would be passed on to farmers and ranchers, in the form of higher prices for inputs such as electricity, gasoline, diesel and fertilizer. The EWG report said those extra costs would be minimal.

EWG Midwest Vice President Craig Cox, of Ames, Iowa, defended the EWG report.

In response to Held’s citing of the Texas A&M study, Cox said the study used four different measures of financial impact on 98 representative farms across the nation. The financial effect from climate-change legislation is different, Cox said, depending on the measure chosen.

“If you look at average ending real net worth, then 75 of the 98 representative farms are better off” as a result of the House legislation, Cox said in an e-mail.

Cox disagreed with Held on several other technical points. At the heart of their disagreement, though, is a fundamentally different view of climate change.

Held said he does not think the “science is all in.”

“We’ve had climate change for millions of years on this earth, and we continue to have climate change,” Held said. “The question is, is it man-caused, and how big a role does carbon dioxide play in that? Our analyses show that the question is still unresolved.”

Additionally, Held disputes EWG’s assertion that climate change will undoubtedly hurt farmers and ranchers by accelerating extreme-weather and high-temperature patterns.

Cox, meanwhile, believes that climate change is a real and grave problem that must be addressed in order to prevent negative impacts to farmers and ranchers.

“The preponderance of scientific evidence and scientific opinion is unequivocal,” Cox said.

“Climate change will pose serious challenges to agricultural production and our soil and water resources.”

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