Kermit the frog has long lamented that “it’s not easy being green,” but today, businesses, including pork production, need to find a way to make “green” part of their long-term plans. Of course, being “green” can mean anything from natural and local foods to electric cars to alternative fuels, and much more.
Some people continue to debate whether global warming is real, and while debate always provides a healthy foundation for any issue, the momentum has moved past the debate stage and on to action. If you choose to ignore the discussion or intend to stand firmly in the path of change, you’re likely to get run over.
Climate change issues and the growing “green” focus is more than a passing fancy. With today’s micro-second attention spans, Americans would have moved past the idea long ago if they didn’t find it credible.
According to a Harris poll, more Americans are buying “green” products — 73 percent of 2,014 respondents said they now buy some “green” products. Of those, 67 percent said the recession has not changed their purchases; 26 percent reported buying more “green” products; only 8 percent said they had cut back.
An interesting side note is that the survey identified “green” products or services as such things as non-toxic or biodegradable cleaning products and restaurants that served locally sourced food.
There’s no question the climate in Washington has changed. President Obama has been clear in his prioritization of low-carbon, clean-energy and climate-related efforts.
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding based on a peer-reviewed scientific analysis that identified six greenhouse gases that contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. Among the six gases were carbon dioxide and methane.
“This finding confirms that greenhouse-gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,” says Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator. The finding, along with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, also pulls the issue into the Clean Water Act and gives EPA regulatory authority. The EPA’s proposed finding is now in the midst of a 60-day public comment period. (A copy of the proposal is available in the Federal Register at www.regulations.gov, Docket ID EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0171.)
Many within agriculture, especially animal agriculture, are concerned that EPA will eventually come down hard on animal agriculture. That will depend in part on EPA’s final definition of greenhouse gases and whether, or more likely, to what degree methane will play a role.
In a worse-case scenario animal agriculture facilities would face new and different permit requirements and possibly structure modifications. Based on a report released last year, USDA estimates that “even small operations would meet the 100-tons-per-year emissions threshold.” That would include operations with more than 200 hogs, 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle and those with 500 acres of corn, making them subject to emission fees.
The American Farm Bureau Federation calculates a cost scenario of $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $21.87 per hog, and that it would affect more than 90 percent of the U.S. livestock industry.
Known as the “cow tax,” this discussion surfaced earlier this year, and EPA officials were quick to clarify the agency’s position that there are no plans to impose such regulations and fees on agriculture. Of course, there’s always reason to be skeptical of Washington’s changing tide.
But U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) — you may remember him as USDA Secretary Johanns — and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) submitted legislation to
protect you from burdensome fees and regulations. An overlooked point in that statement is that such legislation also would protect consumers from burdensome costs that would trickle down into their shopping carts.
While anything can happen in our nation’s capital, my gut tells me a “cow tax” is unlikely. EPA’s own data shows that animal agriculture contributes less than 2.4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse emissions. That doesn’t mean some level or type of regulation won’t eventually surface. There is consensus that the Clean Air Act is not equipped to regulate greenhouse gases, which could motivate Congress to move on climate-change legislation. That is why you have to be in the game and voice your needs, opinions and concerns, as well as offer support to those supporting you.
The good news is that agriculture is a “green” industry; of course, not everyone sees you that way. Depending on the route this issue takes, agriculture can be part of the solution. The carbon cap-and-trade discussion has been moved on and off the burner so often that someone should measure its carbon footprint. The economic turmoil had many arguing now is not the time for cap-and-trade, but EPA’s latest finding could re-ignite interest, and that would be a positive option for agriculture.
Climate legislation could be a “net winner” for farmers, says current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The capacity to use our land creates tremendous opportunities to offset greenhouse-gas emissions in other sectors of the economy. Agriculture can contribute anywhere from 20 percent to 25 percent of the solution.”
In terms of agriculture, a plethora of research has been done and is underway to find long-term, beneficial solutions for you in this arena. Without question, greenhouse-gas discussions can raise any business person’s stomach acid levels, but for agriculture there are reasons to see this glass as half full.