Farmers Fear Impact Of Climate Change Bill
By Darryal Ray
Even if Dan Smalley had the time to read through the 1,300-plus pages of the highly controversial climate change bill passed Congress, he's not sure he'd understand it.
"I can't get my hands around this whole global warming thing," says Smalley, a Marshall County poultry farmer. "It's so big. It's hard to believe all of it -- the problems as well as the solutions. It's so confusing I don't know that anybody really understands it. As big an impact as it's going to have on our economy, I think you should have a lot of people understanding it better before you start passing a bill like this."
Nevertheless, the highly complex bill governing greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, carbon credits and a whole slew of other environmental regulations zipped through the U.S. House of Representatives with blinding speed -- 42 days from introduction to passage.
It was a close vote: 219-212.
All seven members of Alabama's congressional delegation opposed the measure officially known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act that seeks a 17 percent reduction (from 2005 levels) in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and by about 80 percent by 2050.
Unofficially it's known as the "cap and trade" bill because it would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow credits for the sequestering of carbon to be traded like a commodity.
The bill also would limit heat-trapping pollution from factories, refineries and power plants and issue allowances for polluters. About 15 percent of those allowances would be auctioned by bid, and the proceeds used to defray higher energy costs for lower-income individuals and families.
Now it's headed to the Senate where it's likely to face an even tougher challenge to gain the 60 votes required for passage. The reasons for that are partly political, partly ideological and partly because the issue is so hard to understand. Sorting fact from fiction is a major task, particularly amid the roar of environmental activism.
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats say the measure is essential to slow "global warming." Others, including many climatologists, say global warming is an unproven theory.
Alabama's own state climatologist, Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, says many of the claims in a report issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in support of the bill are erroneous.
"When all of the data from the entire state is considered, Alabama is not warming up or drying out," says Christy. "Indeed, the overall trends show a state that is becoming cooler and wetter."
"Who knows who's right and who's wrong?" asks Smalley. "But I do think it's going to put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage regardless of who's right and who's wrong."
The Alabama Farmers Federation agrees. In a June 9 letter to Alabama's congressional delegation, Federation President Jerry A. Newby told lawmakers the bill would "create a financial hardship for many Alabama farmers and would undermine our nation's food security and independence by driving more agricultural production to other countries."
Steve Guy, director of the Federation's Forestry Soybean and Wildlife Divisions, says the countries that stand to gain the most are the ones least likely to adopt any kind of climate legislation -- China and India.
"The costs are going to go up tremendously," predicted Guy. "Some (lawmakers) were thinking they could throw farmers a bone with these carbon offsets. Right now, carbon offsets are trading at $2 a ton. Those offsets aren't going to come anywhere near making up for the increased costs. Do you think that they're going to worry about this in China and India? No way! This is really going to hurt our farmers on international trade because it's going to cost us so much to produce anything."
"Ultimately, it is an elaborate tax scheme -- increased energy costs will be passed on to American consumers, costing the economy millions of jobs and trillions of dollars," wrote Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute, in a column on the organization's Web site at AlabamaPolicy.org.
Palmer argues that the cap would unfairly impact Alabama because more than 76 percent of its energy is derived from fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil, which emit carbon dioxide when burned.
Alabama's congressmen called requirements that utilities substantially increase use of renewable energy unfair to Southern states because hydroelectric and nuclear power are not classified as "renewable." This would lead to significant rate increases for electricity and natural gas -- increases that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) labeled a "light-switch tax" because consumers would pay more for gasoline and power.
In addition to higher utility costs, farmers would likely pay more for fertilizer, diesel fuel and other production inputs.
"Agriculture can play a role in decreasing the United States' dependence on foreign oil through the production of alternative fuels and in protecting the environment through the sequestering of carbon on agriculture and forest lands," the Federation's Newby said."This bill, however, will hurt families, drive small companies and farms out of business and stifle economic recovery."
Smalley, meanwhile, tries to understand what it all means, and count the cost.
"I believe it will be a very expensive proposition to use energy and will be very detrimental to the U.S. economy. Period," said Smalley. "And of course, in agriculture, we use energy on every end...if you are on a farm, you're an energy user."
Every commodity will face its own challenges, but poultry producers like Smalley may have to dig extra deep into their wallets. If a $50 per ton carbon tax is imposed, the average Alabama poultry farm (four 40-foot by 500-foot poultry houses) will see its annual electric bill soar 31.3 percent to almost $22,000 per year. If the measure taxes carbon at $100 per ton, the yearly electric bill could run more than $27,000. On top of that, poultry producers will likely be paying more for propane to heat their houses.
Smalley is not sure just how much more he'll have to pay to raise chickens in this green new world, but he does know one thing as the 1,300-page bill heads off to the Senate: "If they'd stop printing this stuff, we'd have more trees out there."
For more information on HR2454, visit www.thomas.loc.gov.