Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. The ruling is now set to enter a 60-day public comment period and if upheld, the EPA would then act to regulate emissions.

Many within the livestock industry are concerned about potential consequences that may result from further EPA regulation. If the EPA's definition of greenhouse gases includes methane emitted by livestock, animal agriculture could be impacted in a big way.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation is deeply concerned about the impact of EPA’s finding on greenhouse gas emissions," says Bob Stallman, AFBF president. “If EPA were to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, U.S. agriculture would be hard hit. Many agriculture facilities would be subject to permit requirements for structure construction or modification.”

According to USDA, any agricultural operation of more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle, 200 hogs or 500 acres of corn would be subject to emission fees. AFBF calculates it would cost farmers and ranchers $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $21.87 per hog and affect more than 90 percent of the livestock industry.

This issue surfaced a few months ago-- you may have heard about the "cow tax." EPA officials came out with a clarification stating that the agency has no plans to impose such regulations and fees on agriculture. Some ag-industry observers remain skeptical.

Should such fees unfold, most farmers would be unable to pass along the increased costs. For those who can, it could mean higher product costs for consumers. Those who can’t pass along the costs, such fees could force them out of business, contends AFBF.

U.S. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a former USDA Secretary, took action within hours of EPA's announcement. They are co-sponsoring legislation to protect livestock producers from regulations that may result.

"For a state like Nebraska, which ranks first in the nation in commercial meat production, this EPA proposal could have devastating consequences," Johanns notes. "This 'cow tax' could cost farmers and ranchers tens of thousands of dollars per farm per year."

Stallman sums up the threat to agriculture posed by EPA's report with a warning: "This announcement is a slippery slope for agriculture."