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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Don't stand downwind from John Thune. He's having a really bad gas attack

KELO's website is carrying a story about Sen. John Thune raising an alarm that a proposed tax on cow and pig farts could destroy the livestock industry.

Here is the story:

South Dakota Senator is concerned a so-called cow tax could cripple the livestock industry in South Dakota.

The proposed tax would cost hog producers about $40 a head. Beef producers would pay an $87 per head tax. Dairy cows would be taxed up to $125 a head. All because in large numbers the animals emit significant amounts of methane.

"It basically would completely wipeout an industry that is critical to our state's economy and it seems to me at least, to be an incredible overreach on the part of the E.P.A." Senator John Thune said.

It's not a done deal, but the Environmental Protection Agency is trying pass the measure under the Federal Clean Air Act.

Thune says the greenhouse gas regulations were put in place to manage emissions from smoke stacks and vehicles, not livestock.

The only problem is that it isn't so. blew this story away in December.

Here is their investigation of the rumor:

Is the EPA considering a tax on cows and pigs?

No. The farm lobby warned that EPA "could" push for such a tax, but EPA never proposed any such thing and says it lacks authority to impose one anyway.
This one is a case study in how lobbyists sometimes justify their own salaries by loudly fighting against hypothetical but non-existent threats from Washington.

The source of this hokum is a misleading news release put out by the American Farm Bureau Federation on Nov. 20. The highly inaccurate headline read: "AFBF Opposes EPA-Proposed Tax on Livestock." In truth, however, the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't proposed any tax on livestock. In fact, the Farm Bureau's own documentation admitted as much.

Along with its news release, the Farm Bureau issued a backup document titled "How EPA Regulation Could Lead to a 'Cow Tax.' " Note the word "could," indicating a possibility, not a certainty. The document said: "We do not know what direction EPA might take in any final proposal." It said a tax on livestock might be among "potential consequences" of an EPA attempt to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act, as authorized by the Supreme Court. Livestock, of course, naturally produce methane, a greenhouse gas.

A flurry of scare headlines and misleading news releases followed the Farm Bureau's release. A Texas newspaper, the Palestine Herald-Press, headlined its story "Cow Tax?" and said the EPA was looking into it. The New York Farm Bureau said Nov. 26 that it was fighting an "EPA mandate to tax farm animals in New York," as though the agency had actually enacted some sort of tax. The Associated Press reported that a "proposed fee on smelly cows" and hogs was angering farmers. Before long, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, was denouncing the "cow tax" and saying that "these onerous fees could cost New York state farmers an estimated $120 million annually and put family farms at risk of going out of business." Other misleading headlines followed. Among them: "EPA's Proposal To Tax Livestock Gas And Flatulence," "EPA Proposes Cow Tax" and " 'Cow Tax' Uproar Underscores Greenhouse-Gas Divide."

What prompted all this is an "advance notice of proposed rulemaking" that EPA published July 30. This was far from a proposal to tax. In a preface, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson stated: "None of the views or alternatives raised in this notice represents Agency decisions or policy recommendations. It is premature to do so." Rather, the EPA sought public comment on "potential regulatory approaches" to regulating greenhouse gases. As the Farm Bureau backup document itself put it: "The lengthy ANPR was not a proposed regulation but a preliminary notice seeking informed comments from affected parties on what the impacts of such a comprehensive regulatory approach might be." Nowhere in the long document is any call for a fee or a tax on livestock or the methane they naturally produce.

The Farm Bureau's document argues that if EPA goes ahead with a broad program to limit greenhouse gases, "[i]t is likely that methane, a GHG [greenhouse gas] associated with livestock production, would also be regulated in some form." It further calculates that this possibility could lead to a per-animal tax or fee of $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 for each head of beef cattle and $21.87 for each hog. The Farm Bureau said, "[W]hile some claim a cow ‘tax’ or ‘fee’ is hypothetical or speculative, that does not make the possible outcome any less real." But real or not, it was the Farm Bureau that raised the notion of a tax and calculated the hypothetical fees, and not the EPA.
EPA issued a statement saying it isn't proposing a tax and doesn't have legal authority to impose one anyway:

EPA, Dec. 10: EPA is not proposing a cow tax. The CAA (Clean Air Act) does not include a broad grant of authority for EPA to impose taxes, fees or other monetary charges specifically for GHGs (greenhouse gases) and, therefore, additional legislative authority may be required if EPA were to administer such charges.

But just because a proposal doesn't exist doesn't stop lobbyists from lobbying against it, or politicians from publicly denouncing it, or newspapers from covering it.

-Brooks Jackson

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States