Ag’s two faces in global warming debate


Once, during a friendly debate over global warming, I asked a well-informed acquaintance what the consequences were if he was wrong in his insistence that global warming was simply Al Gore’s revenge for the 2000 presidential election.

“Well,” he replied after a long pause to, I guess, stare 40 years into the future, “if I’m wrong my grandchildren will curse my name.”

Narrow vote

That introspective reply come to mind after the narrow, 219 to 212 U.S. House of Representative’s vote June 26 to approve sweeping climate change legislation that, the New York Times noted, will “transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.”

A funny thing happened on the way to that sausage-making, though: Big ag was big-time opposed to any climate legislation unless it got a piece of the pork pie during the transformation.

The initial bill, pushed by Californian Henry Waxman, contained not one morsel for agriculture.

So House Ag Committee boss Collin Peterson marshaled farm and commodity groups to help him wring major concessions from Waxman and his sky-is-(ahem)-warming allies. In the end, most of ag’s biggest wishes were granted and the Peterson amendment — with its rock solid aggie vote — became part of the Waxman package.

Members bailed

But the hothouse farm vote cooled when the entire bill, with the farm-favoring amendment, came before the entire House. Thirty-one of the Ag Committee’s 46 members — all 18 Repubs and 13 of Peterson’s 27 Dem colleagues — bailed.

Wow. Memory fails to recall any other legislative vote when farm forces switched sides, faces and votes with such breathtaking speed. Yea! Just a second: Nay!

The lack of GOP votes on the final bill wasn’t a surprise, especially after party leaders cleverly presented the bill’s untested “cap-and-trade” plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions as a big government “cap-and-tax” plan.

Two big reasons

Also, the GOP’s oft-ally, the American Farm Bureau Federation, supplied aggies in both political camps two big reasons to oppose the bill by offering little blue sky in its estimated cost of Waxman’s cap-and-trade concept: $5 billion less in farm income by 2020 and nearly three times that smack by 2050.

While both numbers are Everett “Billion-Here, Billion-There” Dirksen big, they’re also lonely. Prior to the final vote, neither the Congressional Budget Office nor the Environmental Protection Agency had time to estimate what farmers (mostly landowners) could earn under the Peterson conservation and carbon sequestration add-ins.

Robert Young, AFBF’s chief economist who came up with the farm income cost figures, estimates the Peterson amendment could cut his $5 billion-by-2020 hit to farm income by “certainly less than half and more like a quarter.”

Net loss

So, the net loss to farm income could be $4 billion or so by 2020, he estimates.

But, Young quickly adds, “That’s using EPA’s current numbers. Who can really say what energy will cost in 10 years? The point of the legislation, however, will remain the same: to raise energy prices in the hope of limiting use in order to lower carbon emissions. We simply ask, ‘Is there a better way to reach that goal than ‘cap-and-trade’?”

It’s a fair question, but one that’s been asked — over and over and over — mostly to stall all climate change legislation, believes Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.

National Farmers Union, with a three-year-old carbon sequestration project that’s paid nearly 4,000 farmers in 31 states about $10 million, is a strong backer of the House bill.

Far bigger question

“The far bigger question when it comes to cost,” offers Johnson, “is ‘What are the increased costs to farmers and ranchers if we do nothing?'”

The answer, as my friend who’s cold to global warming honestly acknowledged, will be known to our — hopefully loving — grandchildren.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.



    MYTH: HR 2454 is a cap and tax bill.

    FACT: There are no tax provisions in the bill.

    MYTH: But the bill will raise energy costs, imposing a hidden energy tax of $3,100 per year.

    FACT: Rates still remain a function of state government and utility companies cannot change rates without the Ohio government’s blessing. This bill did not do away with these state regulatory commissions. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is charged with protecting consumers, small businesses and large businesses from volatile rate spikes, and controls the levels to which energy companies can raise their rates.

    The bottom line is that transitioning off foreign oil and creating millions of jobs will have minimal impact on average households. The St. Petersburg Times’ Politifact fact‐checker site calls claims of huge increases in energy costs a “pants on fire lie” and the MIT professor cited as the source called the figure “wrong in so many ways.”

    MYTH: This plan will cost jobs and stop economic growth.

    FACT: This transition to clean energy is going to be a key driver for economic growth—unleashing private sector investment that will far outweigh government incentives. The measure will create millions of new American clean energy jobs that can’t be shipped overseas – whether it’s installing solar panels, manufacturing wind turbines, or renovating homes for greater energy efficiency – as well as entirely new industries. The clean energy jobs plan promotes building a smart grid and the production of clean electric cars . The plan includes incentives for farmers and agriculture and provisions for retooling factories – a move that will breathe new life into America’s manufacturing sector and assembly lines that have been left idle by this recession . Under the EPA’s analysis of HR 2545, the nation’s gross domestic product grows robustly ‐ from $13 trillion in 2008 more than $22 trillion in 2030, as clean energy technology is deployed.

    MYTH: This plan will harm manufacturing and ship jobs overseas.

    FACT: This legislation will strengthen U.S. global competitiveness, helping America become the world leader in new energy technologies, while preventing American job losses to other countries. Transitioning to a green economy will create good jobs manufacturing clean energy technologies, weatherizing and updating new energy efficient buildings, and making thousands of other products in America. A single wind turbine contains up to 400 tons of steel, along with 8,000 parts, from copper wire, gearboxes, and ball bearings to electronic controls. Jobs making these components must be created here in America. The clean energy jobs plan includes critical protection measures for American workers and businesses to prevent the shifting of jobs to other countries. Under the bill, energy‐intensive, trade‐exposed industries like steel will receive allowances to cover transition costs as America moves toward energy independence . The auto industry will also receive incentives to manufacture electric and other advanced technology vehicles .

    MYTH: This amounts to an economic declaration of war on the Midwest.

    FACT: Quite the opposite. The bill will spur a clean energy economy to reinvigorate the Midwest’s battered manufacturing base and will help Midwestern consumers. More than 50 percent of the value of the carbon credits is set aside to protect consumers, and the bill includes provisions designed specifically to protect consumers in states that rely largely on coal for electricity . The bill directs local electricity distribution companies, which are given permit values according to their carbon emissions, to pass along that money to consumers to protect them from rate increases on their electricity bills. And the bill provides additional consumer protections including monthly energy refunds for families in need .
    The bill also contains provisions to protect the manufacturing sector of our economy from unfair competition from foreign countries and companies that refuse to deal with their carbon emissions . The bill includes help for the automobile industry to retool their facilities to build more fuel efficient vehicles . In fact, the bill creates new manufacturing job opportunities in areas hard hit by the recession and the struggles of the auto industry.

    MYTH: Opponents claim that the legislation requires homeowners pass an energy efficiency inspection prior to selling their homes.

    FACT: The legislation does not require homeowners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes or obtain an energy inspection or rating prior to sale. There is nothing in this bill requiring national building codes for existing homes.
    According to the National Association of Realtors, “The House‐approved bill:
    • Exempts existing homes and buildings from any federal guidelines for new construction energy efficiency information labels.
    • Prohibits the implementation of any labeling during a sales transaction”

    The legislation does contain building code standards for newly constructed buildings, but there are no requirements that existing homes or buildings be upgraded to meet any standards. The Building Energy Performance Labeling Program is limited to new construction only requiring, by January 2014, new residential buildings be constructed to use 30 percent less energy than comparable buildings built to “baseline” standards established in 2006 .
    The bill also provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions to provide lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy, or remodel homes and businesses to improve their energy efficiency. These energy usage and efficiency standards are designed to increase public knowledge of building energy usage and efficiency without hindering real estate transactions. The legislation does not interfere with a consumer decision. It is up to the homeowner to decide whether to spend the money on upgrades for existing homes, just like they would to upgrade a bathroom or a kitchen.

    MYTH: Rural Americans will be adversely impacted from higher energy prices under the bill.

    FACT: This legislation also creates an opportunity for farmers and ranchers, establishing a robust carbon offset market that would allow farmers to create and sell carbon offsets to carbon emitting entities. Farmers would be paid for their land stewardship efforts – planting trees, preserving existing forests, no‐till farming and other efforts that reduce harmful emissions . A viable carbon offsets market – one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities – has the potential to play a very important role in helping America address climate change while providing a possible new source of revenue for landowners.
    Rural America is uniquely positioned to create the clean energy to power our economy. From wind turbines paying royalties to ranchers and farmers, to cellulosic biofuels and biomass energy, rural America’s natural resources will create home‐grown American energy. And these investments in rural America will avoid the steep cost of climate change to America’s farmers and ranchers, with greater risk of drought, floods and lower crop yields if we do not act as good stewards of the earth.

    MYTH: It is unfair for America to take action on climate change when some of the biggest polluters in the world, like China and India, are not.

    FACT: America does not set its policy according to what China does. America leads. Action by the U.S. is crucial to putting pressure on China and India to become part of the world effort to address the climate crisis. One guarantee: China and India will not cap their carbon emissions unless the U.S., the largest emitter in the West, moves first. We need to enact this bill to make sure that America, and not China, becomes the leader in new energy technologies that will create millions of new jobs and be needed worldwide over the next decade. A comprehensive energy bill will unleash investments in new clean energy technologies that can be manufactured here in America and exported to nations like China and India. Opponents of the bill are willing to miss this economic opportunity to be a world leader again in new energy technologies that will create whole new industries and millions of new jobs.

    MYTH: Opponents claim that other House committees have not had a chance to debate energy and climate policy.

    FACT: Dozens of hearings on energy and climate policy have taken place this year in committees/subcommittees in the House, including in Ways and Means (4), Science and Technology (9), Transportation (6), Foreign Affairs (1), and Agriculture (4). In addition, we have held 20 or more hearings and markup sessions in the Energy and Commerce Committee and in the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

    MYTH: Opponents claim that nobody could have had time to read the bill.

    FACT: Not true. The bill was formally introduced in the House on May 15th, 2009. It was marked up by the Committee on Energy and Commerce and reported out of that committee on June 6th. That was the version that was considered on the House floor on June 26th, giving members 20 days to read the bill. That was more than enough time.
    It is true that a 300 page amendment was offered the night prior to the vote; however, the vote did not take place until 20 hours after the amendment was reported, giving members plenty of time to read the final additions to the bill. In fact, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio claimed on the House floor that he had personally spent the day reading the amendment, and had finished it.
    If opponents did not read the bill, it was because they chose not to.

    MYTH: Republicans claim that NOT ONE small business had weighed in on energy and climate legislation.

    FACT: This Spring, more than 22,000 small business owners delivered a petition to Congress calling for action on energy and climate.


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